5 packing and wrapping tips to add cheer/irritation to your holidays

If you’re like me, you’re up to your shoulders in packages needing to be wrapped and sent. Here are five sure-fire tactics we use every year to add festive cheer (or flagrant irritation) to our Christmas. (Some of these are actually useful.)

  1. Cheetos make a great package filler, the puffed bags a much better (and more tasty) treat than packing peanuts in a package. img_2019But, unlike packing peanuts, I wouldn’t recommend taking them OUT of the bag and pouring them in your package, or you’ll have a very unhappy postal worker at your front door, caked in orange dust, demanding an explanation. (Not that I have any experience with that.)
  2. Disguise obvious gifts like DVDs, video games, and books by slipping them into cracker and cereal boxes. Then revel in the expression on your child’s face as they excitedly open their . . . box of Ritz? img_2032 (But the kids are on to us, knowing that the Chick’n-in-a-Biscuit box always carries DVDs. But not this year; I’m actually giving them boxes of crackers FILLED WITH CRACKERS for Christmas. This will also serve as a test to see if any of my kids actually read my blog.)
  3. Clothing doesn’t need to be put into cereal boxes or purchased gift boxes which then get thrown away. Roll up your items before wrapping, either long-ways or fat-ways to keep the recipients guessing. img_2023(A son living out of state will be most perplexed by the bulky sweaters his brother lovingly ranger-rolled, army style, before wrapping. He’s hoping for something to keep him warm as he rides a bike for miles each day in the cold rain; he’ll instead think he’s getting useless, soft footballs. Ah, the joy of the holiday season. [cue evil laughter])
  4. This one’s more of a warning: If you tormented a child in the past by making a highly-anticipated gift very difficult to unwrap, he WILL remember and exact revenge in the future. img_2027(Yes, hubby—this is a gift for you, every edge taped down securely by your 13-year-old son who has a very long memory. And I’ve had to hide the duct tape from him.)
  5. How do you start traditions like that above? Use packing tape to wrap those gifts you want to take a verrry long time to unwrap, AND (this is the crucial part) hide all the scissors. (But if your house is like mine, the eleven pairs of scissors we own are already all missing, and to cut ribbon we’re searching for box cutters, all of which have also disappeared. We’re now chewing on the curling ribbon for that shabby/chic frayed look.)

Packing tape ensures that we can make Christmas morning last until late afternoon, and brings us one step closer to keeping Christmas going all year round which is what all of us are after anyway.

Now get back to wrapping. Here’s some sounds to give you inspiration (or to make your skin crawl):

Perrin snarled. “Why is this here?”
Peto looked at Jaytsy, who was cringing.
“It’s a gift,” she murmured.
“Who gives gifts like THIS?” Perrin bellowed.
~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

(Get your official Forest at the Edge clock here! In the comments type, “Book reader” and I’ll refund you $5.)

The Forest at the Edge official clock! Idumea clock, Administrator clock, Forest Edge clock

Have you ever considered skipping Santa and getting straight to the Savior?

A recent online debate has prompted me to repost this blog I wrote three years ago. As a child I dearly loved Santa, and was deeply pained to learn he was only a story. As a parent, I wondered if there wasn’t another way to avoid that sticky problem. Well, there is, quite a simple one, in fact:

We don’t do Santa at our house.

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Now, before you label me a killjoy, call social services because I’m a terrible mother, or weep for my children because I’ve lost the Christmas spirit and am destroying the holidays, allow me to explain myself. Then you can start sending the critical responses.

I promise this won’t be a rant such as I once experienced delivered by a woman who was fond of pointing out that the letters in Santa can be rearranged into Satan. (She was also fond of roasting the opossums that wandered into her yard; I never accepted her offer to sample her stew.) This is an explanation of how we’ve chosen to do something more.

We used to do Santa for our three oldest children (who are now in their twenties) when they were younger, but over the years we’ve distanced ourselves from the magic, tricks, and well . . . deceit. Our six younger children never hear us mention Santa, unless we happen to be talking about a town in California.

As a child I dearly wanted to believe in Santa, despite the incongruities of his origin and abilities. I went to the point of analyzing, as thoroughly as my eight-year-old brain would let me, how he did everything in one night (magic dust, with some sort of cool physics involved), who all the other guys in Santa suits were (secret agents, bugged with mikes and recording devices to send the messages to Santa), and where he lived (under the ice cap—and this was many years before “The Santa Clause” movie; they stole my idea). I also concluded that the version of his origins, as told by the claymation TV show “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was likely the most accurate, primarily because I thought the name Burgermeister Meisterburger was genius.

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(And I also suspected my ancestors looked like Burgermeister Meisterburger.)

I still struggled with aspects of Santa, such as why reindeer seemed a viable mode of transportation, and the fact that Santa’s handwriting looked exactly like my dad’s calligraphy. But I eventually decided that my dad simply changed the tags once the presents arrived because elf writing was illegible.

So it was with utter shock and dismay that I received this news at age nine, casually delivered by my mom: “You know Santa’s not real, right?”

No, I did not!

In fact, I’d wrestled with this so-called truth for years—since I was five, at least—to make sense of a man of magic when I knew—knew—there was no magic.
So the whole Santa-thing was really a trick?
And the entire world was in on it?
What was the point of that?!
Why did all the TV shows and movies and stores and schools and even church, of all places, perpetuate the mythology as truth only to eventually say, “Ha! Fooled you!”

I was devastated. Then I was furious.

What other cherished beliefs from my infancy would be revealed as also hoaxes? For many months I worried that something else, something far more important and vital to my happiness, would also be revealed as a scam.

Fast forward fifteen years, to when my husband and I have a child old enough to know about Santa. Suddenly all those feelings of betrayal rushed me when my husband asked, “So how should we do Santa?”

I didn’t want to! I didn’t want to expose my children to the same beloved stories only to find out later they were merely stories.

But, family and societal pressures told us our children had to have Santa, and who were we to buck tradition? So, for our first three children, we did Santa. Visited him, sent him letters, wrapped the presents “from” him in special Santa paper, and all was fine until those kids started asking legitimate questions about his veracity.

Now I had a problem. I had always vowed I would never lie to my children (that’s not the same as teasing, which is a completely different form of torture). When they asked a sincere question, I would always give an honest answer about everything, from the Tooth Fairy to what Daddy means when he waggles his eyebrows at me.
(“Um, that means we need to talk. In the bedroom. Choose a movie—any movie you want.” Ok, so my honesty is relative.)

But the Santa Really Exists (SRE) movement meant I had to lie to my children, if only to protect their innocent friends from the reality. And I hated that.

So, after a few years of this moral quandary, I told my husband I simply wanted to quit Santa at our house—who were we to buck tradition? Whoever we wanted to be!—and happily he agreed. Since then, we’ve never regretted the decision to focus on our family and friends, and not even bring up the old fat man in red with an odd laugh like garden tools.

What are the benefits of not participating in SRE?

First, Santa doesn’t come off as a jerk. Trying to explain to my children the disparagement of Santa in delivering toys made me feel like a fraud.
“Why did the neighbor kids get a lot more from Santa than you did? Uh, you see, Santa doesn’t actually make the toys; he’s like a Secret Shopper. He buys the presents, wraps and delivers them, then sends us the bill. Yeah, that’s right.”
That was the only way to explain why our budget for each child was $45, while the neighbors had a budget of $300 for each kid.

My children accepted that answer until the year we were in a position to do a Secret Santa for another family. They eagerly helped us choose and wrap presents, but then the unavoidable question arose: “Why isn’t Santa shopping for them and just donating the presents?”

“Well,” I invented wildly, “he’s asked us to help him because, um, he’s too busy—”

“What, buying presents for the rich kids?” my eight-year-old daughter asked cynically.

I didn’t have an immediate answer for that. No matter what kinds of stories and explanations I created, Santa came across as a self-serving jerk whose services were available to the highest bidder. That’s not the spirit of Santa.

Second, we don’t have to lie to our children. By not playing into the SRE game we don’t have to keep up the façade that, something that I’ve always taught my children isn’t real, suddenly is for the month of December. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy fantasy and magic—Harry Potter, Narnia, dragons and Merlin—we’ve got all the books, movies, costumes and games, and it’s fun and serves a purpose, but just not in the real world.

In our early parenting years we frequently struggled with juggling the mythology of Santa with the story of Jesus Christ, who we hold as reality. Once one of our children even said, “My friend at school said Santa is just your parents. So what is Jesus?” The notion of magic and miracles was so confused in her first grade mind she wasn’t sure what to believe.

And that bothered me, to my core. That was precisely what worried me as a nine-year-old. I had even decided, when I still believed in Santa, that on some level Jesus and Santa were related, and shared priesthood power and magic to accomplish Christmas.

Then Santa was revealed to be pretend, and so what about Jesus Christ?

For more than a year I paid very close attention in church each Sunday (well, it’s one way to get a kid interested about religion), waiting to hear something that would suggest that Jesus Christ and priesthood power were also just convenient and “fun” little lies. In fact, an acquaintance of mine who became disenchanted with all organized religion and the notion of God, told me the seed of that was planted when he learned Santa wasn’t real. It was society’s aggressive tactics to preserve this imaginary man, and the lengths to which everyone bought into the lie, that shocked him and led him to believe that everything is, at its heart, a hoax.

But I knew, in my heart, that Jesus Christ was not a hoax. After that year of deep ten-year-old introspection I developed a testimony of my Savior. I still believe in Him, and in my Heavenly Father, and in the Holy Ghost. I have felt them too many times influencing my thoughts and decisions to pretend my conscience is that clear and forward-planning. I have experienced miracles and even seen the laws of physics altered on two occasions to prevent potentially fatal car accidents. I have heard whispers, felt nudgings, and even once encountered a gentle cosmic slap upside my head trying to knock me into awareness when I was particularly hard-hearted.
God is real and involved and intensely worried about our welfare. Santa, however, is not.

I didn’t want my children facing those same troubling questions about what is real and isn’t, especially at such tender ages, so we quietly abandoned Santa a dozen years ago. When my children ask me the hard questions, such as if the Tooth Fairy is real, I answer with, “Is the Tooth Fairy magic? Remember what I’ve told you: magic is only pretend and for fun, but the power of the priesthood in Jesus Christ is very real and very powerful.” They don’t worry about magic anymore, because they have something better.

But, you may fret, what about the Spirit of Christmas? The Spirit of Santa?

Someone once remarked that Santa is the Savior in costume. That got me thinking: why not cut out the middle man and get straight to the Savior? We don’t need to be “Secret Santas”: we can be something grander, realer.

In other words, why not let Christmas be the time that we try even harder to be . . . like Christ? It’s His birthday we’re celebrating, after all. Why not celebrate it by doing what He did?

When you think about it, much of what we do in the name of Santa is what the Savior did and taught. Want to help that single mom down the street? Do so, and in the right spirit. Think about what the Apostle James wrote in describing pure religion: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. (James 1:27)

Want to bring clothing and gifts to those in need? Visit those who are ill or lonely? Go ahead, and remember who suggested it first (hint: wasn’t Santa). Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. . . . Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:36; 40)

Let’s donate, share, encourage, serve, and love in the name of Christ, not Santa.
Yeah, Santa’s a good guy and all, but not nearly as great as the Savior of the world. 

So don’t feel sorry for my children because they don’t have Santa. Oh, they’ll get plenty of presents on Christmas Day from their parents and siblings, along with stockings full of candy and Pringles, and there will be a few surprises snuck in after they’ve gone to bed on Christmas Eve, but if they happen to leave out a plate of cookies, they’ll know they were eaten by Mom and Dad while we put the candy canes on the tree.

Our kids don’t have Santa, but what they have instead are parents that don’t lie to them (well, not about anything important) and a truer sense about the meaning of Christmas.

After all, it’s Merry Christmas, not Happy Santa Day.

“I don’t hold with traditions just for tradition’s sake. I’m rather progressive that way.”
~Perrin Shin, “The Forest at the Edge of the World”

Your Christmas probably won’t be “traditional” this year . . .

I predict that this Christmas will be different for you in some way. Either it’ll mark a “last time” of some sort, or a “first time” of another. Perhaps this year someone significant is missing—either gone for a time or have passed away—or maybe someone new has joined your circle of family and friends. New baby, new marriage, departed grandparents or children . . .

But one thing’s for sure: this Christmas won’t be like ones in the past.

How do I know this? Because over the years I’ve discovered that it’s rare to have a “typical” or “traditional” Christmas. While each holiday tends to be happy, there are moments of sadness: sudden, unexpected, poignant sadness when you realize nothing will ever be quite the same.

And here’s how I recommend you deal with happy-sad Christmas moments: let them happen. Let the tears trickle as you remember how things can never happen again. Mourn the difference, remember how you wished it could be again, think about what a “proper” Christmas is supposed to look like (we all have those unrealistic images in our heads, don’t we?).

AND THEN move on and embrace what’s new and good, and realize that maybe these should be considered sad-happy moments.

I was filled with these mournful/joyful thoughts as two of my sons attempted to put lights on the house the other evening. My oldest son, who’s 22, eagerly rooted through the Christmas bins and discovered several light strands I wasn’t going to use.

“Then I’m taking these outside!” he declared. I’d forgotten that he loved to put lights on the house, because the last time he did was five long years ago, before the army, before his LDS mission and his stint working the oil fields of North Dakota.

But this year—THIS year—he was home to make my house glow.

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And I was overwhelmed with happy sadness by that, because I know that next year—NEXT year—he won’t be putting lights on my house. He’ll be married in a few months, and then we’ll be moving 2700 miles away from him.

But today, I held on to the happy part. He dragged his reluctant 16-year-old brother to help him as the sun set and the cold grew to get lights on top of the snowy house. “Come on. Outside with you,” he ordered his brother away from his computer game.

Age 16, grumbling as he put on his snow pants, said, “Why am I doing this?”

“Because,” age 22 told him, “it’ll teach you to be a man!”  (Since he’s been in the army, age 22 has decided that everything unpleasant teaches you to be a man.)

“But this isn’t necessary,” age 16 countered.

“Yes, it is,” insisted age 22. “We have to prove our house is better than the neighbors! Up the ladder, now.”

I grabbed my camera, knowing that this would likely never happen again, my two sons squabbling as they put up lights for the first time together, for the last time together.

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(Another reason he didn’t enjoy being up there was because I was taking pictures.)

Nearly every Christmas has been something different. I realized some time ago that we don’t know how to have a “proper” Christmas. A cursory count has revealed that we have:

  • Celebrated Christmas in 12 different houses over the past 28 years;
  • Once had Christmas at the beach (that felt so wrong);
  • Twice celebrated Christmas a full week AFTER the 25th, because some family was working in other states (yes, the presents just stayed under the tree until the 31st, and I got all the Christmas candy on sale);
  • Once celebrated Christmas a full week BEFORE the 25th, because we’d be out of town during the holiday (yes, we opened everything very early);
  • Three times have had newborns at Christmas (ok, one came four days later; and yes, fully 1/3 of our nine children have been born in December. I have no sense of planning whatsoever.)
  • Three times had our lives in boxes during Christmas, and had to search a storage unit for a bin of decorations to make the temporary home feel like ours again;
  • Three times had in-laws staying with us;
  • And this year, we will have a teenage Chinese national staying with us to experience a crowded, noisy Christian Christmas (not intending to traumatize the boy, but it’ll likely happen anyway).

“Traditional” and “proper” don’t really show up to our Christmases. One of the years when we had postponed Christmas, I was hospitalized with hemorrhaging on the 28th of December. The nurse treating me said it was a good thing the emergency happened after Christmas, and I told her that we still hadn’t celebrated yet; we would open all our presents in two days. Then she gave me morphine for the pain, and I died right after that because no one knew I had a deadly reaction to morphine, and the ER staff kindly revived me again, and I spent our postponed Christmas laying on the couch at home eating steak to try to rebuild my depleted iron stores.

Not all Christmas activities are worth making into annual traditions.

We start new traditions and forget old ones, bring in new family, and say farewell to others. Bid goodbye to beloved houses, set up the tree in new places. And that’s all ok.

I took these photos eight years ago at an extended family Christmas gathering, and knew then that it’d be the last one. My sister, mother, and father in these photos have all since passed away.

1227-08-mom-and-dad  12-27-08-jenny-richard-judy-kevin

Even as I reviewed the photos that night, I began to weep, knowing that was one of the last times our family would all be together, and that Christmas would look different in the future.

Occasionally I envy some friends and neighbors whose Christmases are the same every year. They always visit grandparents, or have a cousins gathering, or spend the day with extended family doing the same things. Solid, reliable traditions . . .

But not us. One year, we skyped with my husband who was in three states away as we opened half our presents. It was like having Christmas with an Artificial Intelligence unit in the house.

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This year we’ll hurry through opening presents in the morning, then drive two hours down to our daughter’s church to attend the service with them, and have a chili dinner at their apartment afterward. We’ll never do all of that again, either, because we’re all parting ways next year, I have no idea when I’ll celebrate Christmas with my two grandchildren again. We haven’t been grandparents long enough to establish any traditions that our moves can destroy. Happy-sad.

The other night as my sons called me to come outside for inspection, I looked up and smiled at this new tradition that would happen only once: brothers lighting the roof together. They plugged in the lights, and there was a minor Clark Griswold moment when age 22’s section over the porch didn’t come on. But age 16 smugly announced, “Yet all of my lights are working, thank you very much.”

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As he descended the ladder, loudly muttering that none of this was necessary, and age 22 went back to inspecting his dark half strand, I thought to myself, “Yes, all of this was necessary . . . for me.” Only moms know how vital it is to see our kids working together, creating a brief yet deeply felt memory that maybe only mom will remember.

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After only a minute of working on his disobedient strand, age 22 got the rest of his lights on, and I cheered.

Some traditions happen only once.

This year, remember that there’s no such thing as a “traditional” or “typical” Christmas. When you find your celebration taking an unexpected or sad turn, embrace it and feel through it. The entire reason we celebrate Christmas is to remember that Christ came as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He understands our joys and our sorrows, and he came to wipe away all our tears.

John 4:5–29, Christ accepts water from a Samaritan woman

Let him. That’s really the only proper way to celebrate Christmas.

“In the meantime, enjoy the tradition.” ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti