‘Tis the Season … To Buy Wrapping Paper?

Stores have had their holiday displays up for weeks, but until the snow fell this past week, I wasn’t quite prepared to think about it.

While I LOVE winter (I know … it’s a weird and unpopular thing to say) I find the holiday season to be a mixed bag.  On the one hand, it’s wonderful to spend time with family and friends; on the other hand, there’s the stress of obligatory and thoughtless spending (and the effort of trying not to feel like a Scrooge if you choose to opt out of the obligatory and thoughtless spending).  There’s the trips back and forth to the mall to mull over over-packaged crap.  And then there’s the sheer waste that accompanies the wrapping of all these gifts.

I often think that life would be so much easier if I weren’t cursed with a mind that extrapolates.  Because I don’t just see one store’s worth of wrapping paper … my mind’s eye imagines reams and reams of the stuff, stocked in stores everywhere.  I picture it being manufactured in factories — some overseas — shipped in containers over the ocean, trucked across North America.  I think about the energy and raw materials that go into each step of the process.  And then the end-result:  I see my neighbours setting out small mountains of garbage the first pick-up day after Christmas, a scene I imagine to be happening on streets all across our nation.  And if our landfills could talk, they’d probably be saying, “Thanks, but you really shouldn’t have…”

The City of Vancouver — forward-thinking like so many west-coast cities seem to be — has had some phenomenal advertising campaigns which urge people to think about the waste that gets generated during the holiday season, like this one in which garbage bags — bulging with discarded wrapping and packaging — are decked out with bows and gift labels which say:

TO: The Landfill

FROM: Residents of Metro Vancouver                                                

So there’s something very satisfying to simply saying, No, thank you to the plastic-encased packages of wrapping paper that are gracing shop shelves everywhere.

Here’s my alternative to buying rolls of gift wrap:

My mother taught me to sew when I was young, but the hobby hit new levels when my husband bought me a serger for my birthday when I was pregnant with our first child, over 18 years ago.  I spent many happy hours sewing adorable dresses and rompers for her — squeezing as much creativity out of her nap-times as humanly possible.  I also spent a fair amount of time at the fabric store, drooling over texture and pattern, my imagination running wild.  And that first autumn of motherhood, when the store brought in their holiday-themed fabrics, a light bulb turned on.  What better way to be festive and creative and to take care of the environment than by sewing reusable gift bags?

These bags are very simple:  a basic pouch with a wide upper hem and a gap in the side seam to leave room for a cinching cord.  That first year, I made them as I brought purchases home, making the bags just slightly bigger than necessary.  Over the years, as our family grew, I added to the collection, making some small enough to hold a gift card, some big enough to hold a large LEGO set.  I also left some lengths of fabric un-sewn: very large items can either be draped with fabric, or wrapped using exactly the same folds one would use with paper. Instead of tape, these packages are tied with a length of yarn, similar to the way paper gets bundled for recycling, or the way we used to tie packages being sent in the mail.  Gift tags are small bits of red or green card stock, hole-punched and strung on the cording or yarn.

And of course, this means that the aftermath of Christmas-morning present-opening is incredibly easy at our house.  There’s no hemming and hawing over which wrapping paper is recyclable and which is not, and there’s nothing to bag and set out onto the street for the garbage truck.  The fabric bags and lengths of fabric are simply folded up, the yarn re-wound into neat bundles, and everything gets put back into the storage bin for next year.

Of course, one doesn’t have to be a seamstress to wrap gifts in an environmentally-friendly way.  Besides the tried-and-true newspaper comic or shoebox approach, a rummage through the linen closet can give you everything you need to wrap gifts:  there’s napkins, tea towels, pillowcases, sheets, tablecloths, those curtains you should’ve dropped at Goodwill months ago … any of that, plus a ball of yarn, and you’re good to go!  Presents can also be hidden in plain view:  my husband once “wrapped” my birthday present (a houseplant guidebook) by shelving it, and giving me a note instructing me as to where I should look.   A game of hide-and-seek and a present!

I know my mother-in-law some people enjoy making a pretty package; for them, gifts just aren’t gifts unless they’re wrapped in festive paper and tied with a curly ribbon. To these people I offer this thought:  take the dietary maxim, a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips, and give it a twist …

A moment in the hand, a lifetime on the land.

Is it really right that our ten seconds of anticipatory pleasure results in the creation of garbage that will likely never, ever disappear from the landfill?

3 thoughts on “‘Tis the Season … To Buy Wrapping Paper?

  1. So with you on this one, Marian. I do keep 2 rolls (one red, one green) for those things that are too big to wrap other ways, but they’ve now lasted several years. If I don’t do a fabric gift bag, I often just tie a (re-usable fabric) ribbon around the box and call it good. If that’s too plain for some, they can invest in a holiday stamp (I have one that’s a snowflake that I really like) and an ink pad and give the box permanent “paper.” Fabric bags are my first choice because they’re the most durable, but I can usually get a few years out of a decent gift box. Packages can be green and still pretty!


    1. I have to confess to having one roll of paper, hidden way up high in our closet, for “Santa” presents (one per child per year). It’s lasted several years now as the Santa that comes down our chimney doesn’t bring big things like bikes or Play Stations 😉 . I’ll be really glad when our youngest figures it out (he’s *this* close), and then I won’t need that roll anymore 🙂

      I really like your ideas of fabric ribbons or a holiday stamp to “festive-up” a plain package. Of course it goes without saying that a well-chosen gift will be appreciated no matter what it’s been wrapped in, but there’s still that underlying desire for a bit of “presentation”, right?


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