Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wrapping bee: The wrap-up

I understand that “new tradition” is something of an oxymoron, as is “first annual.”

But yesterday evening did feel like a new tradition and a first annual, because it was so much fun and met a need and augmented the cheer of our holiday season. And oxymoronic or not, those factors do seem to me like the ingredients of a new tradition.

Wrapping Christmas gifts has long been a bit of a sticking point in our holiday routines. Even before we were married, Rick and I were in the habit of staying up late on Christmas Eve to do our wrapping together. This is not the best way to spend Christmas Eve. The work is tedious, the practice is superficial and the timing ensures that you won’t get to bed at a reasonable hour. We always wake on Christmas morning tired rather than refreshed, and not because of meaningful holiday-related rituals or festive celebrations running too late the night before but just because we weren’t organized enough to get the necessary chore of wrapping out of the way sooner.

For the past few years, I’ve tried to make it different, especially after we started the far more fulfilling Christmas Eve tradition of hosting my sisters and their families as well as my parents for Christmas Eve dinner. We’d go to church in the late afternoon, have a wonderful evening of conversation and food and fun – and then after the dishes were washed, it was time for Rick and me to start wrapping. That’s just not the right way to head toward the mythical hour of midnight on December 24th.

A couple of years ago, a seemingly insignificant line in an article about Christmas baking caught my imagination. The article described a variety of homemade gifts that you could prepare several days before Christmas – “So that on Christmas Eve, you can put your feet up and wait for Rudolph,” the writer concluded. I loved that image: being enough ahead of schedule that I spent Christmas Eve, or at least the part after the dinner guests left, just relaxing. Or reading. Or sleeping.

But I was never able to make it happen.

And then I had a spontaneous exchange with a friend earlier this week. “We should have a wrapping bee,” I wrote to her. “Just get together for an hour and get all our wrapping done.” Not only did she like the idea, she was available the same night I was, and so was another friend of ours.

So last night we had the First Annual New Traditional Wrapping Bee. It certainly wasn’t an hour – closer to three and a half. But we did it: we got all caught up on our wrapping. I have three or four gifts to pick up today and I can wrap those tonight and then I’ll really truly be wrap-free by Christmas Eve.

Not only was it efficient, it was such a good way to visit. I heard about one friend’s Thanksgiving trip to London and another friend’s perceptions of her son’s new school: we talked about everything from peculiar habits our mothers have to reasonable responses to bullying. We talked about books, vacations, and of course the gifts we were wrapping. We made our way through a bottle or two of Chardonnay.

So for me, the evening bore all the hallmarks of something I certainly want to make a yearly occurrence. The conversation with my friends nourished my spirit; the activity filled a necessary practical need. On Christmas Eve, I’ll put my feet up and wait for Rudolph, and I’ll think very warm thoughts about my two Wrapping Bee buddies and how great it is to start new traditions together.

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