Merry Christmas from the Far Outer Hebrides!
-Brid and NTS
Old Christmas cards make great gift tags. Punch a hole if you have a hole punch, thread a string through on a needle, or fold a rectangle in half to make a tiny card that you can attach with tape.
If you don’t have old cards, any nice-looking piece of paper will do.
Or try plain brown with the top corners cut off for a retro look. Whenever I come across a nice print, I file it away for future use. (Literally; I keep them in a manila file on the bookshelf.) My favorite teas come in gaily printed boxes, so I store those flat and bring them out when I gift-wrap.
No tags needed
No one said you have to have sticky tags or hang tags to personalize packages. Colored markers work on plain and brown paper, while sharpie works on anything. Silver and gold sharpie or paint pen makes the message pop. Write a message, sketch a few Christmas trees (a triangle with a trunk and a star on top. You can do it. Promise.)…
If you (or your children) have stamps, that’s a fun way to liven up packages. You don’t need strictly Christmas-themed designs, either; toys, nature, animals, fun characters, and abstract squiggles are all great ways to add visual interest without adding to the landfill toll.
If you have an existing box, a pretty picture or two from an old card or a box of tea may spruce it up into a gift box, requiring nothing more than a bit of glue.
Tying off: ribbons, string, twine, and reclaimed materials
Most of my ties are ribbons that came to me on other presents, or starry tinsel garland sent to me years ago. I didn’t buy any of the ribbons pictured here. If you tuck whatever ribbons come your way into your box of wrapping supplies, you may be all set for next year. Or just buy a roll; you can re-use the same pieces year after year.
For a more homegrown/low key/natural look, try kitchen string or twine. Colored crochet cotton produces a similar look to the baker’s twine that’s so popular now, and may be cheaper, depending where you get it.
For wrappings made entirely of reclaimed materials, try tying with t-shirt yarn or strips of torn muslin.
Other bits and bobs
Natural elements take your gifts to a whole new level of classy without costing you a cent. Chop those branches that wouldn’t fit into your tree stand into cute twigs. Forage for holly, evergreens, leaves, cones, and sprays of berries. Tie on a twig or spray with ribbon or string. Wow your in-laws with your packaging flair.
You can tie almost any item to a package: bells, broken/old jewelry, ornaments, buttons, beads, small toys, small animals*. Go wild.
* Okay, can doesn’t necessarily mean should. But you get the picture.
Saving your sanity: prepping
The principle is good for all of these wrapping strategies: some snowy afternoon when your kids/you are stuck inside, prep your wrapping supplies for the season/foreseeable future. Cut scrap fabric into large squares for furoshiki (Erin of Reading My Tea Leaves uses unhemmed muslin for an old-timey look). Have your kids draw on/stamp/glue things to/maul (depending on age) some paper or kraft paper (this goes over particularly well with grandparents). If I’m in the mood for a quick, easy craft, I’ll cut all of my scrap fabric into neat rectangles one day, and sew them all some other time when I’m feeling restless. Sewing bags is a great craft for a child learning to use the sewing machine, too, as it’s all straight lines and medium-sized pieces. And as the same bags reappear year after year, your child will have the satisfaction of knowing he/she made that bit of family tradition with their own hands. Win.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that most crafters, having committed to making an unreasonable number of their Christmas presents, do not have a great deal of time for this sort of thing in December. Thus, the making of bags and wraps is a particularly good exercise for the doldrums of January and February, when you suddenly have much less to do, yet still can’t do much outside. If you end every holiday season with a resolution for everything to be Less Complicated next year, having a supply of bags on hand to shove the presents into and tags all set to tie on come December may save you some angst. Plus, the Christmas fabrics and ribbons are mad cheap starting December 26.
I had a grand old tag-making party this weekend, cutting all of my old Christmas cards into ready-to-use tags. It was rather zen, just sitting at the table, cutting old things into pretty shapes. I keep them in a envelope with the rest of my wrapping supplies, complete with pre-cut strings to tie them on with, so they can be deployed quickly when needed. (There’s always that one gift that somehow doesn’t get wrapped until you’re heading out the door. Or is that just me?)
If you’re not feeling this mad desire to make things, the world of infinitely re-usable wrapping is still for you. Keep your eyes open at thrift shops and clearance sales for handy pre-made wraps:
Or use what you have. Your kid has two sets of superhero pillow cases? Bam. The ones not on their bed can go under the tree. Superhero gift wrap, superhero mom. Got a present that’s too big for any roll of paper? Wrap it in a blanket and top with a giant tag and a bow.
For more ideas
A book with fabulous tutorials and pics: Ruby Star Wrapping: Creating Packaging to Reuse, Regive, and Relove.
Some natural wrapping eye candy: Reading My Tea Leaves
Did I miss out your favorite wrapping option? Tell us all about it in the comments.
Hello, Dear Reader. Here I am, back from balmy Belgium. (No, really. Belgium is usually fairly similar to Edinburgh this time of year, if less windy, but there was a lovely heat wave while I was there, bringing the temperature up to 12C / 54F. If I can’t have skiing, I’ll happily take warmth.)
A small sampling from an afternoon in Brussels:
Growing up, we always had an angel on top of the tree, one my mother made just before I was born. After I was married, we experimented with a star, but I never really liked covering up the top of the tree. Now we have a triptych of jolly gentlemen who perch in the top crook of the tree. And this year, a little something more…
You can tell where my heart is this Christmas. Inside a nice pair of waterproof boots.
(Because part 2 always comes before part 1.)
Last year, I called an end to wrapping paper once and for all, at least in my wrapping. Wrapping paper is the ultimate in consumerism. You buy it, then rip it off and immediately discard it in favor of whatever is inside. (Unless you’re under 3, a furry animal, or both.)
Disturbingly, wrapping paper and bags account for 4 million tons of trash annually (source). On the upside, we don’t have to do it. According to the same source, “If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.” Let’s be those people, okay?
Needless to say, this waste sits very poorly with the sustainability I want for my lifestyle. I’m not giving up hot showers just yet, but I really can’t say that my failure to buy rolls of garishly printed shiny paper has caused me much suffering, or even any loss of festive-ness in our Christmas season.
This is partly because my conception of Christmas decorating has always tended away from the plastic and mass-produced and toward the textures and traditions that have been used for centuries–wood and glass, homespun, brown paper and string, interspersed with green boughs, holly and berries. (See, for example, my Christmas pinterest board.)
Some minimalists forego presents altogether, but we’re not quite there yet. I love giving and receiving presents. Small presents, big presents, presents that climb on rocks… Sometimes the presents are things someone needs, even if he doesn’t know it: a thrifted spring jacket to replace one that’s worn out, a homemade waterproof bag to carry his shoes home from work instead of an old plastic bag. Sometimes they’re just nice. Like books. Or beer. Or chocolate. Mmm, chocolate.
I love wrapping presents. I love seeing the presents grow under the tree as Christmas approaches. This is unlikely to change. What have changed are the wrappings themselves.
Here are a few ways to do Christmas without doing wrapping paper. I’ll tell you now, they’re all easier, cheaper, and/or more fun than that shiny paper on the roll that always rips when you’re in a hurry.
Part one: paper
Brown paper (oddly called ‘kraft paper’ on teh interwebs) has been staging a comeback. Once the wrap of choice for any kind of parcel (in the days before single-use shopping bags), it was eclipsed by purpose-made ‘wrapping paper’, but no more. If you live in the US, paper bags are a sturdy option. The UK doesn’t seem to favor paper bags. I am, however, graced with an abundance of brown paper whenever I open a package from amazon. Heaps of paper. Festoons of paper.
Pair it with string, colored ribbon, or tinsel. For extra sustainability, fabric ribbons can be used year after year, or repurposed for other crafts. But even using recycled paper is a step in the right direction. (Make sure to have a recycling bag by the tree so it doesn’t go to the landfill!)
For extra fun, embellish with colored pens or markers, or kick it up a notch with silver and gold sharpie. Anyone can draw a tree or a snowflake. Just take it one line at a time.
Junk mail is the worst. My little environmentalist heart just bleeds every time a giant flyer goes straight from my letter bow into the recycling bin. (It would bleed even worse if I read the flyers, though.) But there is a bright side, at least for bright adverts! Things that are printed in bright colors and patterns look equally bright under the Christmas tree. Or if you’re aiming for a more subdued, classy look, go for plain black-and-white newsprint with red string, ribbon or tags.
My subversive little self also enjoys using promotions for commercial Christmas junk to avoid having to buy wrapping paper. It just warms the cockles of my heart.
A few months before Christmas, I start keeping an eye out for magazines with nice pages. This year’s stars were a lovely glossy sales magazine from a supermarket, a fundraising catalogue from the John Muir Trust (some lovely wild landscapes in that one, naturally), and the Christmas edition of the Historic Scotland magazine. The full-color, glossy turkey and bright red lobster were a big hit at the St Nicholas* gift swap this year. The winter edition of any catalogue should have some great, glossy pictures. If you don’t get catalogues (email me to tell me how you manage it), ask friends for theirs.
*In the Netherlands, St Nicholas’ Eve, the day before the saint’s day of St Nicholas, is the major December holiday. It’s become a tradition for our Dutch friend to throw a party featuring a most fabulously convoluted gift swap game. Much better than your standard white elephant swap.
You can get big sheets by removing the center staples, or just taping pages together. Use exactly as wrapping paper, but with smug satisfaction that you’re not contributing to Christmas landfills. And of course, recycle after use! (Or burn; we always had two bags for Christmas wrap, one for the woodstove and one with the awkward ribbons, etc.)
One of several sea glass Christmas decorations I’ve been working on. Originally intended for my sister, the garland found a home here when I realized just how heavy a large box of glass was going to be.
I’m slightly disappointed, though, not to get to fill out the customs form on that package. “What’s in the box, ma’am?” “Half a kilo of broken glass and some string.”
Here’s to a holiday spent not in jail.