My mother overdid things. Her favorite book was “Cheaper by the Dozen.” She had four kids, all daughters, and as many as my father could stand. A child of the Depression, she bought us all too much for Christmas because she finally could, and then insisted on wrapping every single thing, even a Hippity Hop.
We’d lose her for a whole day in the basement family room while she emptied rolls and rolls of paper. My sisters and I yelled at each other through the empty tubes. To this day, one side of the bench of the Howard upright piano she willed to me is still sticky with 40-year-old Scotch tape, leftovers from her assembly line.
Momma hit the after-Christmas sales hard. I remember skipping beside a Woolco shopping cart jammed with half-price wrapping paper rolls and bags of self-adhesive bows, giddy with the shiny glare of it all.
Even as my sisters married and had children, she didn’t let up. Instead of a day, she disappeared for a week. Each Christmas morning, we foundered in a sea of love and ripped paper. My family did everything fast; we didn’t open carefully, fold and tuck away for next year. A meticulous brother-in-law who tried quickly learned to keep things moving. We stuffed the deluge into the trash while we stuffed our faces with ham and greasy casseroles. For a budding “environmental” as my mother called me, Christmas became existential bloat. The last several years of her life, Momma finally admitted defeat and put everything unwrapped in trash bags with our names on them.
Every Christmas, sweet American families like mine throw away 4 million tons of wrapping paper. Much of it, with its foil and glitter, can’t be recycled anyway. Take heart; alternatives exist.
• You can turn almost any kind of paper into wrap. The Sunday comics, old posters, telephone books, calendars, magazines and outdated maps are great options. Even odd-shaped pieces from last year’s rolls can be pieced together into colorful, wacky wrapping paper.
• You can create hand-printed wrap with the kids. With a few potatoes, bowls of tempera paint and paper, you can carve print blocks and create your own personalized Christmas paper. For a mere $2.16, you can buy ends of newsprint rolls from the Lawrence Journal-World for this very purpose.
• You can sew reusable cloth bags out of seasonal print to use again and again.
• You can even make the wrapping part of the gift (i.e., bandanas, tea towels or hand-knit scarves).
If wrapping is your thing, simply search online for recycled gift wrap and knock yourself out. And there’s a formula devised by guilt-ridden British mathematician Warwick Dumas that guarantees you won’t waste one iota of wrapping paper, recycled or not. You’ll find it here. If you can figure it out, you’re smarter than I am.