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December 23, 2007

Wrapping Redux
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:32 PM * 96 comments

Last minute wrapping?

Missed last year’s discussion of same?

Today was Sunday. You should have the color comics section from your newspaper lying around. Who needs wrapping paper when you have color comics?

Bubble wrap. You have bubble wrap, right? Just cover the thing with bubble wrap. Even if the present is a dud, who doesn’t like bubble wrap?

Unusual-shaped thing? Tie it in a bandanna. Two gifts in one!

If you’d started earlier, you’d have had time to tie-dye tissue paper. But it’s not too late! Put off your gift giving until Twelfth Night (January 5th), claim it’s traditional (because it is), and you have plenty of time. Old Christmas is January 6th (for another reason entirely).* Use that as your gift-giving day.

A ribbon makes anything festive. A ribbon on a brown-paper grocery bag is Plenty Good Enough.

Cookies do not need to be wrapped.

*The calendar reform of 1751 moved everything forward by 11 days. What had been called 25 December was now called 6 January. Old Christmas is still a magical day, and the spirits walk abroad. Lots of evidence of this in American folk ballads.

On ghosts walking on Christmas: Halloween is mostly an American holiday. Christmas has long been a time when the divide between the world of the waking and the world of the dead has been thin. See, for example, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. M. R. James wrote a ghost story every year for Christmas. It’s another tradition.

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Comments on Wrapping Redux:
#1 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:01 PM:

Aluminum foil. No tape needed.

#2 ::: Stephanie ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:05 PM:

I sent Teresa's wrapping post to our housemate last year. She picked up on the furoshiki link and has been wrapping all our gifts that way since. $40 at the fabric store has wrapped a lot of presents. There's a stack of them under the tree right now. My mom is making a quilt with the squares she got from us last Christmas. And there's no fighting upstairs/downstairs over the tape, or complaining about the ugly Santa paper that's the only kind left.

Furoshiki is beautiful, easy to do, and reusable (and some of the designs have a built-in handle). So thanks!

#3 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:07 PM:

Yes, cookies go in gallon Zip Loks. Told mom to tell any family coming up to Lawrence to bring back the nice plastic cookie boxes I gave out last year.

Over this last week, I made: honey peanut butter, ginger snaps, cranberry drop cookies and sour cream sugar cookies (slightly different recipe than yours). May make one more type tomorrow, since we want some for US as well as family. Maybe some candy-cane cookies. (p.s. I loves my stand mixer. Just sayin'.)

#4 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:10 PM:

The other good thing about giving presents in January is that after New Years the prices normalise. Increasing the price of merchandise by fifteen bucks on the 22nd and saying that it is a 'Christmas Special, five bucks off!' on the 24th is a swindle, not a discount, says I.

I'm very pleased by the increasing distribution of pretty non-Christmasy wrapping paper. The designs are almost always easier on the eyes than the horror of little red 'Ho! Ho! Ho!'s scattered on a forest-green background.

(And the Father Christmases always look like they've had a nip too many of sherry. Bad Father Christmas, opening his presents ahead of time.)

#5 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:16 PM:

January 6th is Orthodox Christmas where I live. I grew up with a community of Russian Old Believers, so we celebrated holidays twice.

Coincidentally, my dearest (non-spousal) chum has a degree in Russian Studies. We give each other until January 6th to get our gifts to each other, because it seems appropriate. Or we're good enough friends that if something doesn't get there on the exact day, we know the other is working on it.

#6 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:28 PM:

Mary Dell #1: Was it you who suggested foil last year? If so, I'm eternally in your debt--it's the only wrapping material I use now, and it never would have occurred to me on my own.

#7 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:36 PM:

What had been called 25 December was now called 6 January. Old Christmas is still a magical day

Oh, so is this why Jesus in the Cherry Tree Carol says "On the sixth day of January my birthday shall be"? Because I always wondered about that -- it was like "wait a minute, why is this song Eastern Orthodox if it's English?"

#8 ::: Darice Moore ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:43 PM:

I used leftover fabric pieces to make two large-ish gift bags this year. The inside fabric had some stains (it was from an old tablecloth), but the bit that pokes out at the top isn't stained, and it contrasts with the outer fabric to give a nice, neat look. I tied them shut with raffia bows.

The fabric bags look so nice that I am planning to make furoshiki and bags in varying sizes as an ongoing project for next year. If nothing else, they'll store more compactly than my wrapping paper tubes.

As for cookies, I usually have a couple of tins lying around to put them in. I rarely, if ever, have to buy new ones; I just send the ones I have on to the next house (once I make sure they're clean and in good shape). Swedish coffee bread, on the other hand, is given in plastic bags tied with festive ribbon.

#9 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:45 PM:

It's a little misleading to talk of "the calendar reform of 1751". 1751 was when the protestant country of Great Britain (and its colonies) accepted the Catholic-initiated calendar reform of 1582, when the Gregorian calendar fixed the lag in the Julian one.

(So to say that "Old Christmas is January 6" is also a bit misleading: the calendar was changed for good reasons, i.e. it was slipping behind. Sufficiently old Christmas would track to our December 25, because the Gregorian calendar is more accurate to the sun.)

But only in the English-speaking world was the reform of 1751, and the calendar was older. (Russia didn't adopt it until after the revolution, so that the "October Revolution" was actually in what most of the world was calling November...)

#11 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:48 PM:

Plus, the actual days weren't dropped until 1752, not 1751. See here. (Should have caught that first time around....)

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 11:57 PM:

Listen to me and you shall hear, news hath not been this thousand year:
Since Herod, Caesar, and many more, you never heard the like before.
Holy-dayes are despis'd, new fashions are devis'd.
Old Christmas is kickt out of Town.
Yet let's be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn'd upside down.

The wise men did rejoyce to see our Savior Christs Nativity:
The Angels did good tidings bring, the Sheepheards did rejoyce and sing.
Let all honest men, take example by them.
Why should we from good Laws be bound?
Yet let's be content, &c.

Command is given, we must obey, and quite forget old Christmas day:
Kill a thousand men, or a Town regain, we will give thanks and praise amain.
The wine pot shall clinke, we will feast and drinke.
And then strange motions will abound.
Yet let's be content, &c.

Our Lords and Knights, and Gentry too, doe mean old fashions to forgoe:
They set a porter at the gate, that none must enter in thereat.
They count it a sin, when poor people come in.
Hospitality it selfe is drown'd.
Yet let's be content, &c.

The serving men doe sit and whine, and thinke it long ere dinner time:
The Butler's still out of the way, or else my Lady keeps the key,
The poor old cook, in the larder doth look,
Where is no goodnesse to be found,
Yet let's be content, &c.

To conclude, I'le tell you news that's right, Christmas was kil'd at Naseby fight:
Charity was slain at that same time, Jack Tell troth too, a friend of mine,
Likewise then did die, rost beef and shred pie,
Pig, Goose and Capon no quarter found.
Yet let's be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn'd upside down.

#13 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 12:11 AM:

January 6th is also Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, or Dia de los Reyes. This is when my Spanish relatives open gifts, and I remember receiving presents from them as a child with instructions to wait to open them till the sixth.

#14 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 12:14 AM:

Also, the calendar has slipped two days further since the 1700s, so Julian Christmas is now on Gregorian January 7th.

#15 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 12:22 AM:

Unfortunately the tins we have here are from the person who donated a whole lot of Most Excellent bourbon balls for when we were bidding for a WorldCon, first for 2006, then for 2009. We have a pile for her (she also gives them to her family) since we've sorted through all the bid's party supplies.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 12:22 AM:

Stephen #11:

I'm not saying you're right, and I'm not saying you're wrong, but I am saying that any reference to Wikipedia is automatically suspect.

#17 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 12:27 AM:

Darice, cloth gift bags are a fine thing. Juan's mom Ruth made us some a while back, which now hold our tree garlands and other stuff-that-tangles; for obscure reasons having to do with family connections to the ag school, they are red and green and have cows all over them.

I am thinking that Twelfth Night presents is just the ticket, this year. (Who, me, behind on stuff? Goodness, yes.)

#19 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:16 AM:

Sixth of January is the Epiphany around here, or the day La Befana arrives. Living in the North of Italy I got presents on both days, those from La Befana in stockings hung from the fireplace.

Christmas and Epiphany are both Christian takeovers of much older pagan festivities, and Epiphany is also the day the bonfire are burnt here, with a human figure on top, sound similar to anything?

Winter is a time for a series of important rituals, starting with the Day of the Dead in November, then Christmas (the day of the Undefeated Sun), La Befana, and ending it all with the one festival the Church really truly never could conquer, Saturnalia or Carnival, which is a Big Deal in Catholic countries.

For us, the doors open on November 1, while the Solstice is a festival of light (due to St Lucia being venerated in the South, lucky Italian children with roots in both directions get presents for St. Lucia TOO. )

January the Sixth is the day the year turns, in which you burn the effigies of the old, perform rites of renewals and ward off disasters (the direction the smoke from the bonfires blows predicts the growing season).

Carnival is the moment of licence, when roles are reversed and you can mock authority, tradition and religion - something that in England happens instead between Christmas and Epiphany, with the Pantomime.

Then there is Easter, and after that, people were too bloody busy in the fields to have any time for rituals.

(Talk of Attack on Christmas makes me always SO angry...)

#20 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:21 AM:

James, #16: Will you accept Isaac Asimov as a reliable source? In his essay "The Days of Our Years" (available in the collection Of Time, Space, and Other Things), he goes into some detail about the changeover from Julian to Gregorian. Without trying to quote directly, I'll summarize the facts as he lays them out:

- The Julian calendar was officially established in 45 BC, and was based on a 365-day solar cycle. Since it was known that the solar year was actually more like 365.25 days long, the "leap day" tradition was also established at that time. The Julian calendar had a leap day every 4 years without fail. The Christian Church formally adopted the Julian calendar at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

- The growing discrepancy between the Julian calendar, based on a year exactly 365.25 days long, and the actual solar year (which is about 11 minutes shorter) was first called to the attention of the Catholic Church in 1263. However, no action was taken on the issue until 1582.

- In 1582, Pope Gregory issued a correction, dropping 10 days from the calender so that October 5, 1582 became October 15, 1582. This brought the Church calendar back in line with the solar calendar. At that time, a further refinement to the Church calendar was also adopted, in which 3 leap days are omitted in every 400 years*. This is the Gregorian calendar.

- The Protestant parts of northern Europe, however, resisted adopting a "Popish" change. Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Protestant portions of Germany finally adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700.

- Great Britain and the American colonies held out until 1752. By that time, the Julian calendar was off with the solar year by 11 days. When they changed over, September 2, 1752 became September 13, 1752. Much of the public unhappiness over this change happened because landlords and other creditors did not offer any pro-ration for the "missing" days in the month of September.

- The Eastern Orthodox nations held out until after 1900, and therefore had to "leap ahead" a full 13 days when they made the changeover. And the Eastern Orthodox Church still follows the Julian calendar.

* Hence the rule that years ending in 00 are not leap years unless the year is also evenly divisible by 400. This distributes the dropped leap days fairly evenly across the 400-year period.

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:25 AM:

Lee #20: I'll accept Asimov as a source. Incidentally, nothing that he says contradicts one word that I posted.

Whether Wikipedia is right or wrong on any subject depends on what day you look at it, or even what hour of that day. It isn't a source.

#22 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:33 AM:

This year we recycled all of our brown paper bags. The theme on my son's wrappings? The Woot question mark, and a phrase explaining what's inside in the form of "B of Cs" (commemorating Woot's "bandoleer of carrots" - the much-coveted leftover-for-cheap purchase which he can't bring himself to state aloud).

I use yellow glitter-glue for his question marks, which led to other punctuation marks (many and varied) for my daughter. My darling spouse will have to make do with less creativity (but, I think, the best present.)

#23 ::: jere7my ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:33 AM:

When I was a projectionist, I used to pilfer movie posters from the stacks that cluttered up the office (with the full knowledge of my boss) and use them for wrapping gifts. The gift recipients were delighted, and nobody ever seemed to care that half a dozen Dr. T and the Women posters disappeared before Christmas.

#24 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:36 AM:

James, #21: Sorry if that sounded as though I was trying to contradict you; and you posted while I was composing mine, because I had to go find the essay and then summarize it. I agree with everything you say here about Wikipedia, and thought Asimov would probably be more acceptable.

#25 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 03:23 AM:

Jim, Halloween is chiefly American, to be sure, but the tradition that the veil between the worlds is thin at Samhain (from which Halloween is derived) is European and predates the birth of Christ by centuries at least. I believe it predates Celts coming to Ireland, though I'd have to look it up to be sure.

#26 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 06:12 AM:

James: fair enough. Although your link confirms the actual days were lost in 1752, too... (In my experience, Wikipedia's reasonably reliable for things like dates. I don't know if I'd agree that it's not even a source for things like that.)

Mostly just wanted to give Pope Gregory his fair share of the credit. :) The UK just adopted his good work late.

I also think C. Wingate at #14's point is probably worth taking in.

#20: That Asimov essay's always been one of my favorite of his F&SF essays...

#27 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 06:42 AM:

Who doesn't like bubble wrap, indeed.

I'm in the thick of it -- Christmas Eve is The Big Day in Germany, and despite careful planning there's always lots to do. Up at 7:30, ran to the market for fresh salad, more whipping cream, and the fuel for the fondue pot. Breakfast, coffee, then over to the trout pond for some freshly smoked trout. Back home to finish a rum pie, lebkuchen mini bundts, ciabatta, and an asparagus salad. And now a break with Making Light. Frohes Fest, everyone!

#28 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 08:40 AM:

Road maps. The side pockets of your car are full of them, mostly in semi-pristine condition.

#29 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 08:41 AM:

ethan #6: Chryss made the suggestion last year, handed down from his (/her?) dad. I learned the trick from my dad too.

Nowadays I get a zillion printed gift bags and boxes from party city and use those, so I don't do much of anything that could be called "wrapping." Well, except for hubby, because he's sentimental. His stuff gets the full paper & ribbon & bow treatment.

#30 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 08:52 AM:

Announce: This is the BBC Home Service.

(GRAMS: Coin dropping into tin cup.)

Announcer: Thank you. In celebration of the Christmas Season we bring you the highly esteemed Wohs Noog.

(GRAMS: Silence.)

Seagoon: Well, they don't know what to make of that, Wal. But that's enough talking backwards for Christmas. Pray, introduce our Christmas entertainment, full of the spirit of the season.

Announcer (Funereally): Tonight, in the darkest nights of the year, when we huddle around the fire and gaze at the lights of Christmns lest we notice what lurks in the shadows, we tell you the story of The Ash Tree in the Choir Stall of the Cathedral Cloister.

Seagoon: Er, yes...

Griotpyppe-Thynne: Please, get on with it. The brandy is waiting.

Seagoon: Well, if you put it like that... {Speaks with some rapidity} My name is Ned Seagoon, which came as something of a surprise to my mother, unemployed antiqurian and scholar. My tale begins when I received a letter from my old friend, the noted religious and scholar, Canon Henry Crun, DD.

Henry Crun (off mic): My good friend. Strange things are afoot. Come at once, and bring your Service Revolver.

Seagoon: My service revolver?

Crun: Yes, and be sure to load the Book of Common Prayer.

Orchestra: Sinister dischord, followed by openind bars of "The Church's One Foundation

Seagoon (gulps): I went immediately to see Canon Crun. I would have gone post-haste, but it was Christmas, and you know what that means.

Orchestra: "Devil's Gallop" (Theme from "Dick Barton")

Minnie Bannister: Henry

Crun: yes Min.

Bannister: I saw the Bishop this afternoon.

Crun: Well, that's nice, Min. I havebn't seen the Bishop for days. I was told he was unwell.

Bannister: Well, he didn't look too good, buddie.

Crun: What was that, Min?

Bannister: He had a headache.

Crun: A headache? Didn't you offer him one of your famous herbal remedies, Min?

Bannister: I offered him an axe.

Crun: But isn't that a rather drastic remedy for a headache?

Bannister: Not when the Bishop's head is stuck in a tree, buried neck-deep in a sinister cleft.


More to follow...

#31 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 08:59 AM:

re 21: In principle, Wikipedia is no worse than any particular person offering facts. And I check up on Isaac too.

#32 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:09 AM:

re 27: In our household it's a two-day extravaganza, because today is also my parents' anniversary.

It's my grandmother's fault. So I'm told. It's easy to remember.....

#33 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:10 AM:

A question for those who use reusable bags and cloth wrappings -

How do you handle the question of who keeps them a the end? Are they part of the gift, or do you get them back? Or is that dependent on who gets them in the first place? For example, the boss keeps hers, but your sister gives hers back?

They look so festive in pictures, but when I try to imagine it I can't quite believe that it will read as festive when I do it. Add in my uncertainty about the ultimate custody of the things, and cloth wrappings end up seeming like a social nightmare waiting to happen, so I've avoided them thus far.

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:23 AM:

Mary Dell @ 29... Well, except for hubby, because he's sentimental. His stuff gets the full paper & ribbon & bow treatment.

I'm like him although I always tell my wife to skip the bow part. Sue was worried yesterday that she hadn't wrapped some of my presents yet, but I don't want her to get stressed out because of it so I told to just skip it and give me the gifts as is (Or is it 'as are' since there's more than one gift?). She looked at me like I was weird.

(You in the corner... Don't think I didn't hear the snicker.)

#35 ::: Erin ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:42 AM:

What's wrong with brown paper bags decorated (preferably by children) with marker squiggles? Or paint handprints, if you don't mind the mess.

And re: Christmas superstitions and the thinning of the veil ... I wrote something for the Boston Globe about it this year ...

#36 ::: Kes ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:43 AM:

R. M. Koske #33--
I do the cloth bag thing, and I just go around picking them up during the general clean-up. If I come up short I don't care--they're just made from remnants and leftovers.
(I don't have a boss, but if I did, I'd assume that bag wasn't coming back. My family knows I'm frugal.)

Being as I'm friendly with my sewing machine, I can make a bag in less time than it takes to wrap with paper. Rectangle+fold+sew two sides+turn rightside out. Insert prezzie. Tie shut with ribbon.

Is it true there were riots in the streets, people demanding the days taken from them be returned?

#37 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:56 AM:

A friend and I have, about an hour and a half ago, finished wrapping a chicken. In a duck. In a turkey. In about 6 hours time it goes in a very slow oven for about 5 hours. We do this every year. I call it "How to Cook for Forty People." We hope to have that many to feed.

It has been December 25th for nearly two hours here so this is me wishing everyone the merriest possible Christmas. May you all eat a bit too much, drink a bit too much* and be just as happy as it is possible to be regardless of what underlying reason you choose to celebrate this day.

*Not necessarily of any intoxicants should your tastes not go that way, of course.

#38 ::: aguane ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 10:02 AM:

#33: I always expect the other person to keep the bags to then use with gifts that they give out. However, if it looks like they're the sort that is just going to throw it out with the trash, I'll ask for it back to use for the next present.

Back before grad school took all my time I was a fan of brown paper, raffia and some sort of plant (usually eucalyptus). Those days are long gone so now I think next year I'll have to try Furoshiki.

#39 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 10:18 AM:

C. Wingate @ 31: In principle, Wikipedia isn't much worse than some unknown person of un-vouched-for reliability offering facts. There are some particular people whose statements of fact I trust; there are other particular people whom I wouldn't trust to describe the current weather even if they'd just walked in out of it. Part of the Wikipedia problem is that some of the unreliable contributors tend to be a lot more obsessive than the reliable ones.

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 10:21 AM:

oh, that calendar change. The one that leaves genealogists shaking their heads as they try to figure out if that date they're looking at is OS or NS, and did the person who collected it 'correct' it or not, and are those dates in Hinshaw 'fixed' or not .... (If it associates 10th month and Christmas, not.)

We won't even go into when the new year started: that's even worse.

#41 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 10:49 AM:

James D. Macdonald @ 21 -

I hadn't thought of it like that, but you raise an interesting point. The very quality that is touted as making Wikipedia useful, i.e., anyone can edit it, is what makes it unreliable. Sources should not be variable.

As it is, I link to Wiki pieces from time to time just so that a common framework for a discussion is in place.

#42 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 11:06 AM:

#$ Lindra--I don't think the old boy opened his present early; I think he bought it himself for extra fortification when he looked over his to-do list.

Excuse me, I need to take a look at my to-do list now, and get on the road for the Those Last Awful Errands.

#43 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 11:07 AM:

#25: Xopher

Jim, Halloween is chiefly American, to be sure, but the tradition that the veil between the worlds is thin at Samhain (from which Halloween is derived) is European and predates the birth of Christ by centuries at least.

I believe that the Celtic Samhain was closer in date to the Christan Lammas than to (either of the two) dates of Halloween.

Lammas is another magical time. We have a lot of those....

#44 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 11:18 AM:

I find that Wikipedia is good for getting a broad sense of a topic -- an overview of the issues, what people think should be known about it. Any individual fact should be verified from other sources, however, especially if controversial.

In related news, a friend of mine was in a (now-defunct, sadly) metal band called Ten Missing Days. Most people thought it was a reference to a ten-day bender. It turned out to be a reference to the Gregorian calendar reform.

#45 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 11:29 AM:

Shorter Wikipedia problem:

Expert: I have better things to do with my time than argue with fugheads.

Fughead: I'm a fughead. I don't have anything better to do with my time.

#46 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 11:41 AM:

R.M. Koske, #33: IMO, fancy wrappings are part of the gift. This year my donation to the Bead Society Christmas party was a touch on the skimpy side, so I sweetened it a bit by putting it in a fabric pouch, that inside a gift bag, and tying a Christmas ornament to the bag. That way the person who got my package effectively had 3 gifts, plus the pretty gift bag to re-use if they want.

Kes, #36: Yes, there was some civil unrest, but it had a lot more to do with the fact that although 11 days' earnings were lost for that month, the landlord still wanted a full month's rent. Imagine what that would do to your budget!

P.J. Evans, #40: Yes, and you can win some pin-money by betting people that George Washington wasn't born on Washington's Birthday! (Short form: Washington was born on Feb. 11 OS; after the changeover, he preserved the actual day by shifting his celebration to Feb. 22.)

#47 ::: elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 11:42 AM:

My wrapping this year ended up some kind of shiny monstrosity. I bought some beautiful flocked paper on clearance last year that turned out to be impossible to work with - too thick, doesn't crease well. When I got frustrated with that, I went to the other extreme and started using foil tissue, which is forgiving but the sheets are much too small.

I am just going to assume that everyone will be distracted by the shinyness and the pretty things inside. Next year, furoshiki.

#48 ::: Darice Moore ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:03 PM:

R. M. Koske @ #33: I figure if I'm using the gift bags for immediate family gifts (i.e., under our tree), the bags stay with us to be reused. If I'm using them for friends and extended family, then of course they get to keep the bag/wrap; it's part of the present.

My plan, such as it is, is to hit the post-Christmas sale at the fabric store. But I also found some nice Christmas bandannas on sale last year, and some dish towels. Those make nice wrappings as well.

#49 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:07 PM:

Radio 4 is doing dramatizations of several of MR James' Christmas ghost stories on the Women's Hour Drama slot.

Merry Christmas. No presents here. I'm aligned with the Church of Stop Shopping.

#50 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 02:06 PM:

I hesitate to suggest anyone in this group might resort to giving gift cards ($26B expected sales this year, NBC tells me), but if you do, get some jewel cases and put the cards inside. It's misdirection and it provides a container which won't be lost as easily as an envelope might be.

#51 ::: Maybear ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 02:18 PM:

If I had been organized enough to bake cookies or mini-loaves this year, I'd have wrapped them in fat quarters from the local quilt store.

Makes lovely wrapping for Small Things, when tied with a bit of yarn or ribbon (or even pinned), and bright bits of fabric are excellent for hoarding, re-using, or even (gasp) sewing or quilting.

She Who Must Not Buy More Fabric

#52 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 03:05 PM:

This is the most last-minute and haphazard christmas for me ever. Luckily my doctor handed me a "too-anemic to have any energy" excuse.

Wishing everyone here a warm & cheery holiday.

#53 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 03:22 PM:

@50 -

I actually exchange a fair number of gift cards with certain hard-to-buy-for members of his side of the family. It's usually a gift cert to a favorite restaurant or a specialty shop you know the person frequents. Because I am not a connoisseur of vintage video games or guitar accessories, and they know nothing about plus size women's clothing or art supplies, and we've agreed that since money is in short supply, it's more thoughtful to let the person pick a special treat they actually want than to spend money you don't have on crap they don't want.

Other families' mileage may of course vary, but in our circle gift cards are well appreciated.

#54 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 04:03 PM:

Mary Dell #1: Aluminum foil. No tape needed.

Ah, yes! Foil also has the advantage of making up for a lack of skill at wrapping in the first place. You can just add partial layers to cover up the torn or mistakenly crinkly bits.

#55 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 04:26 PM:

Thena @ #53, your reasons are similar to mine. I don't even want to try to find the right music for my 30-years-younger-than-I niece. A GC for iTunes or Borders/B&N is my solution.

#56 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Lee (46): Yes, there was some civil unrest, but it had a lot more to do with the fact that although 11 days' earnings were lost for that month, the landlord still wanted a full month's rent. Imagine what that would do to your budget!

Last time the subject of calendar reform came up here, I think someone definitively refuted that. That is, landlords were required by law to pro-rate the rent, and there was no unrest to speak of. (Xopher, do you remember that exchange? I seem to remember you being involved in it.)

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 05:11 PM:

All presents wrapped in paper bought at 6:00 from the convenience store at the foot of the in-laws' road.

Now discovering the joys of French blackberry liqueur while watching Layer Cake.

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 06:07 PM:

Jim @10:
Thanks for the link! I love the Cherry Tree Carol, but hadn't heard the final two verses. I blame Joan Baez.

My father, by contrast, gets very angry about it. He is fond of Joseph, and protests mightily about Joseph flew in anger/ in anger flew he.

It's the fundamental divide, I think, between people who listen to the words and people who listen to the lyrics.

#59 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 06:33 PM:

Joseph: Tell me, Mary, whose child is this?

Mary: Yours, sir, and the Lord of Bliss.

Joseph: Yea, and who than?

#60 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 06:53 PM:

(That's from the York mystery plays, play #13, the Pewterers' and Founders' play, Joseph's Trouble About Mary.

#61 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 07:05 PM:

Jim @12: Is this the tune supposedly played at Yorktown?

#62 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 07:14 PM:

I'm a huge proponent of both giving and receiving gift cards, but they're no fun to wrap.

I got gift cards for a couple of family members. I put them in DVD cases I picked up at work. I removed the disc and litho (I didn't think it would be any great tragedy to toss "Ultimate Fights") and replaced it with my own, a layout of vintage ads pasted rather amateurishly on a power point slide. I nearly taped a couple of pennies in the cases to give them the illusion of a little more weight, but I decided that would be fussy.

I'm also fond of e-gift cards, although it seems there's no way to specify when the e-gift card arrives; I saw the gifts my sister got me when I checked my email yesterday.

#63 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 07:46 PM:

Abi, #58: Whereas I think that detail is one of the best things about the song. Isn't there something in one of the Gospels about Joseph being upset and trying to cancel the planned marriage when Mary came up pregnant, and having to be reproved by an angel? It would certainly be the expected behavior from a man of that era and culture.

Call this a third subgroup: "people listening with a period ear."

#64 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 07:52 PM:

James D. Macdonald #45: Expert: I have better things to do with my time than argue with fugheads.

A more traditional spelling is fugghead.

#65 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 11:46 PM:

No real wrapping tips that haven't already been mentioned except that "TV wrapping"— wrapping the lid separately from the box— was a favorite with my family for a while.

But I *do* have a tip that seems to me to be very timely right now. Calendars. 2007 calendars. Specifically calendars with lots of pretty pictures that your coworkers are throwing away right about now, and are on nice glossy paper...

Can you see where I'm going with this? I gave notes of encouragement and thank yous for years based on old calendars. If the date side hadn't been written on, I'd put my note on there— and a used one only requires a quick application of glue and paper to have a clean surface. Or you could glue it to a clean surface, come to that— you could make some pretty box coverings with calendar pics. And the covers are usable too, including the mini pics of the interior features. Sometimes they're small enough to be made into bookmarks. You need bookmarks, right?

Better than cards, and great for actors on opening night.

#66 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 12:27 AM:

Robertson Davies wrote ghost stories for Christmas too, and very fine stories they are.

#67 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 02:05 AM:

Call this a third subgroup: "people listening with a period ear."

Indeed! The ballad participates in the medieval tradition of depicting Joseph as akin to the mal marié of fabliau, the old man with a young wife he doesn't quite trust -- a tradition derived, ultimately, from the passage in Matthew that Lee refers to (which was, in fact, the gospel reading in church this past Sunday) -- as the text James linked to indicates, being a fine example thereof. Chaucer also plays with the association a bit in the Miller's Tale; he has the miller introduce his tale thus:

For I wol telle a legende and a lyf
Bothe of a carpenter and of his wyf

and then the randy young clerk in the tale, we're told, likes to sing Angelus ad virginem, the famous medieval song of the Annunciation.

I like to come in and give random Medieval Lit 101 lectures. ;)

#68 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 02:30 AM:

I tip and type and double-tap
And clean up links to bubble wrap.

[posted from]

#69 ::: kathryn Sees a Spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 04:50 AM:

#68 is email address spam to a bubble wrap online store.

Ah, what a century this is, that there should be an online store devoted to air pockets. The air will be shipped by air shipping, and wrapped in additional air pockets for protection.

#70 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 07:17 AM:

Ah, what a century this is, that there should be an online store devoted to air pockets.

All the better to sell to airheads, my dear.

#71 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 07:25 AM:

50 ::: Linkmeister @ 50, and others, re. gift cards.

I give all my nieces/nephews/godchildren book tokens - then they get the fun of choosing the book(s) for themselves and the enjoyment of reading the book(s). I keep asking if there's anything else they would prefer and nearly all years, for both Chanukah/Christmas and birthdays, the answer is that the book tokens are great.

If you're stuck for what to get for the person/couple who has everything, consider a "Good Gift" - give them part of a library in Africa (in a termite-proof box), or an acre of rainforest, or a donkey, or... there's a wide range of gifts, it doesn't matter if someone gets the same gift twice, and they get sent (or you get sent) a colourful card in a bright red envelope!

#72 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 11:47 AM:

The air will be shipped by air shipping, and wrapped in additional air pockets for protection.

This brings back fond memories of the chemistry lab in Kingston. We'd receive deliveries from the various chemical supply companies every week or two. Most of the items were standard, just keeping up our stocks, but it was a large research group dealing with some uncommon kinds of compounds and reactions, and a lot of the reagents and equipment coming in were specialty items. These were often back-ordered, so the arrival of a package often meant that someone could get on with a project that had been on hold for weeks. There was, therefore, usually a bit of a "Christmas presents!" atmosphere when a package arrived, and the unpacking was generally attended by a number of people.

On one occasion, a medium-sized cardboard box was delivered to the lab -- fairly light for its size, it seemed, though appearances could be deceptive. Opening it revealed a lot of foam packing chips and a smaller box. That box contained... a lot of foam packing chips and a padded envelope. The envelope contained a small plastic zip-lock-type bag containing something like 100 small soft-rubber septa, used for stoppering glass NMR sample tubes (5 mm diameter). Virtually indestructible.

I'm sure there was some "good" reason involving postal regulations and "chemistry equipment" why the septa were sent as they were, rather than (say) popped into an envelope with a piece of cardboard backing and mailed. But I've wondered if the person who packed the shipment had the same sense of the absurdity that we had when we unpacked it.

#73 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 02:57 PM:

Heh. I wondered where my comment went. Then I discovered that I accidently posted on last year's discussion. Anyway, moved to the correct year:

I have a lot of old gift bags to reuse, but this year I found that I wanted to wrap most of my gifts and I also didn't want to buy paper. My dad has a tendency to give gifts in really pretty gift bags, but to stick an adhesive label on the bag, limiting its reuse value. Most of my gifts were on the small side, so I disassembled a couple of the bags I got from him, cut off the section that had the gift tag and the wraggedy bits that used to be glued together in folds, and used that paper for the wrapping. It worked out pretty well.

#74 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 05:13 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 64
Online sources are not adequately verifiable - please provide a better citation.

#75 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 08:34 PM:

#61: Allan

Yes, this is the tune (though the tune has had many sets of words put to it over the years) supposedly played at Yorktown. See Contemplator for more; various sets of words and the tune in Midi format.

#76 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 11:07 PM:

Lee @ #63: Isn't there something in one of the Gospels about Joseph being upset and trying to cancel the planned marriage when Mary came up pregnant, and having to be reproved by an angel? It would certainly be the expected behavior from a man of that era and culture.

Yes, but more in sorrow than in anger. I'm not going to retype the whole passage (it's Matt 1:18-25), but the key sentence is:
"Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly."

I've always read it as saying that Joseph was a good man trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation, rather than a man angry that his territory had been poached. The statement that he was "a righteous man" could go either way, but the detail that it was her reputation he was worried about, not his own, counts in his favour. Although if you feel like muttering "Of course he would say he was doing it for her own good", I don't suppose I can stop you.

#77 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 11:19 PM:

Of Christmas ghosts:

One of my Christmas traditions is reading a particular Christmas ghost story, "Standing in the Spirit" by Janet Kagan (author of Hellspark, Mirabile and Uhura's Song, and Barbarian Queen of Direydi). It wears its debt to Dickens on its sleeve, but it's not Yet Another Christmas Carol Retread, and I commend it to you all.

#78 ::: Mikael Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 05:26 AM:

My mother in law is a meteorologist, working at the main airport hereabouts. One of the mainly used wrapping paper types is used weather maps. And they look goooooooooooooood!

#79 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 06:34 AM:

Steve #74: Online sources are not adequately verifiable - please provide a better citation.

In my opinion, the Fancyclopedias are an outstanding source for fannish words such as fugghead. Still, if you want the blood-flecked details, there's always the OED's Science Fiction Citations project. The site lists ways to contact OED Editor-At-Large Jesse Sheidlower in meatspace, if you require further verification.

I do not have an original hardcopy of Fancyclopedia II or the fanzine Spacewarp #42, but I imagine some Making Light readers would.

#80 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 07:12 AM:

74 ::: Steve @ 74 Online sources are not adequately verifiable - please provide a better citation.

That depends on the "online source". For example, the Red List of Threatened Species is online ( It is the definitive source for information on the IUCN's listing of how endangered different species are. Online rather than paper publication is not what makes the difference between something being verifiable or not. Proper referencing, peer review, archiving - those are important.

#81 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 11:23 AM:

A local gift store, now alas defunct, sold wrapping paper with old maps printed on. My husband, clever man, presented me with the 19th-c map of Paris--rolled up inside some other wrapping paper. We still have to frame it, but it's going to be gorgeous.

#82 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 02:49 PM:

dcb @ 80 re:"Proper referencing, peer review, archiving - those are important."

Except at Wikipedia, of course. They have _rules_. Which are online. And meet none of the Wikipedia rules on adequate sourcing...

(and first use of fugghead in this thread was in reference to a wikidroid)

If it weren't for Ward's Wiki still being useful after all these years, I'd give up on the concept.

#83 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 03:05 PM:

Paul, #76: "More in sorrow than in anger" perhaps, but nonetheless he was going to divorce her as "damaged goods". Quietly, yes, I'm sure -- because his own reputation would have been as much on the line as hers; he didn't want people snickering at him for a cuckold. Forgiveness, of course, was Right Out. This is exactly what was to be expected from that culture in that period, and to quibble at the song for noting it is a trifle unrealistic. (It should also be noted that the attitudes therein expressed continued to be commonplace in Western culture in general until as recently as the mid-20th century.)

#84 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 11:26 PM:

I'm still way behind in the WashPost, but imagine my amusement when one of the papers I read last night referenced furoshiki.

#85 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 11:47 PM:

By pure accident I followed a bit of fruitcake advice from my grandmother this year, and left out the dark raisins. And she was right: it's MUCH better that way.

#86 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 12:16 AM:

I am thankful that Aaron Allston turned me on to Corsicana fruitcakes.

#87 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 01:22 AM:

I'm not sure who Steve is, but he's missing a significant aspect of the question of reliable sources for "fugghead".

It's a term used by a particular cultural group, and most of the regular commenters here have been part of that group for many years.

Add a tendency to neologism, and a preference for descriptive lexicography, and worrying about the paper nature of any sources is, in itself, close to fuggheadedness.

#88 ::: Earl Cooley ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 05:34 AM:

At this point, I don't have enough information to tell whether or not Steve Downey is actually a trufan who is just pulling my leg or wearing his Wikipedia Editor hat and yanking my chain. In any case, I'm treating it as a legitimate request for information, and am currently trying to track down an original hardcopy of Spacewarp #42 for him to see. I'm not going to go so far as to bankroll plane tickets or long distance phone calls for the project, though. heh.

#89 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 04:06 PM:

re 86: My fruitcake has changed over the years since I wrote this recipe, and this year we had candied cherries, citron, orange peel, dates, dried mango, dried apricots, dried currants (true, not zante), golden raisins, and pecans. One year I can a different type of candied orange peel which was superior, and I think it was two years ago I used glaced apricots instead of dried.

#90 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 05:37 PM:

Earl Cooley @ 88 - I appear to have your leg. I suppose I'd best return it while it's fresh.

Sorry about that.

I've banged my head too many times at Wikipedia, where not only is having been there and done that not sufficient, it's often characterized as a handicap. And for most of what I've been involved with, either professionally or as a hobby, for the last 15 years or so, most good primary and secondary sources have been online. With arguments about if freezing and publishing was a good thing or not. 'Dead Trees' isn't pejorative by accident.

On the other hand, it's really easy for online only to vanish. Or, for non-plain text to become inaccessible.

I would be interested in that Spacewarp 42, though.

#91 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 07:57 AM:

Steve @90: "at Wikipedia, where not only is having been there and done that not sufficient, it's often characterized as a handicap"

I write/edit an electronic encyclopaedia on wild animal health and management. Everything we put in there is referenced. In addition to books, journals, conference proceedings, theses etc., we also reference reputable websites and personal communications. Without using these, lots of information would be missing. Some things are referenced as a pers. comm. from me, where I have personal knowledge and can't find the point written down anywhere.

For references to online sources, we give the page title, URL and date referenced. For personal communications, name, degrees if relevant and more or less contact details as prefered by the person supplying the information, including e.g. affiliation to a relevant institution. The best online sources from our point of view are those such as ProMED-mail, where everything has an archive number and you can always go find the information using that unique number, even several years later.

#92 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 09:04 AM:

I've used foil, and comic pages, and even clear plastic wrap. I was proudest of the sheet of "Brand X" wrapping paper that I drew by hand with a Flair pen. I've done something similar since then with more modern methods, using a desktop publishing program and a color printer. At work was best, because I could print on ledger size paper.

#93 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 09:07 AM:

ps: I wrote what may be the least terminable carol ever a couple of years back, the Canterbury Carol. It's recently become apparent that there are a couple of errors in it, but here is it without error correction. Heh.

#94 ::: Renatus sees spam... ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2010, 04:02 PM:

... That looks like it was run through Babelfish a few times too many.

#95 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2010, 04:23 PM:

Yes, but it's so confused it's almost spiritual!

#96 ::: Earl sees spam quotation database entry ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2010, 06:43 PM:

Part of that is an Alan Alda quote.

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