Wrapping Up Christmas

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

If you’re like me, I spend untold hours toiling over how to decoratively present Christmas gifts. That becomes especially challenging if the gift is a bicycle, a car, or a pony. The quest for the perfect box, the perfect paper, and the perfect bow, started me thinking about how the Christmas wrapping practice came to be.

An online search revealed that wrapping gifts is an ancient practice that goes all the way back to the first century AD in Japan (think origami) and Korea. In the Victorian era, Christmas wrapping generally consisted of red, green, or white tissue paper. But all that changed when, in 1917 in Kansas City, MO, two brothers who owned a stationery store found Christmas shoppers were in an especially exuberant mood that year, and the store ran out of Christmas tissue paper to sell. They scrounged around to find substitute paper and located sheets of heavy paper designed to line envelopes.

Their customers liked this substitute paper so much, the brothers sold it again the next Christmas. By the third Christmas, they knew they were onto something and decided to start a business making wrapping paper. The brothers’ names were Joyce and Rollie Hall. They named their new business Hallmark.

I love this story because of the Halls’ inventive nature. They sought a creative solution to a problem.

That encourages all of us, as we face current publishing problems–fewer books being published by publishers each year; bookstores struggling to stay open; no new current reading trends to drive sales–with an eye to solutions rather than focusing on what is lacking.

When faced with a scarcity of brilliant ideas or a lack of enthusiasm for your work from readers, think about what’s in your storeroom that could be put to good use.

For all of us, the Hall’s brothers’ story is a reminder never to think the task in front of us is impossible. Take, for example, what would you do if you had to wrap a cat for Christmas? Check out the solution here.

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  1. Janet, I have never given a car or a pony for Christmas, so I am thinking that some on my list may be contacting you for adoption!

    My readers are tweens. I know that they have a common heartfelt need – PENCILS. They seem to always need one. (I can say that confidently as I teach this age group.) Since my upcoming tween devos engage readers in writing and doodling/drawing, I want to send pencils to my readers (and their parents and children’s ministry groups). Right now, I am offering free, neon pencils on my blog for those who sign up for my mailing list. The most challenging thing I have ever wrapped? Pencils!

  2. How to wrap a cat…

    In James Herriot’s “All Creatures great and Small”, one of Jim’s colleagues says, “Herriot may not be much of a vet, but he sure knows how to wrap a cat”. (For the catless, you wrap a cat for almost any treatment. Try not doing it once and you will see why.)

    When “All Creatures” came out around 1970, no one had written about vets, and certainly not the experiences of a rural vet in 1930s rural Yorkshire.

    And yet…it became an international bestseller, beloved by millions.

    Why? Because warm, gentle writing will always win out. People want hope, they want love, they want to smile.

    Write that, guys, and there will always be an audience.

    • Oh my, I LOVED those books!! We’d fight over them, actually. And the PBS/BBC/ITN? TV series was excellent. I may know of 2 sisters who wanted to marry Tristan. Not saying who though…

      • Those books saved one of my dogs recently. Herriot described treating a horse with bloat – that the horse had to be kept walking, and could not be allowed to drop and roll.

        One night our coonhound, Duke, bloated very quickly. It was impossible to transport him without possibly killing him, so we walked, for four hours, until the swelling went down.

        Thank you, James Herriot!

      • Wanda Rosseland says:

        Hey, wait! I wanted to marry Tristan!

        Yup, who can beat James Herriot?

        The cat would be wrapped last. Just before the opening in fact. In a little Santa splashed cotton sack, with a big ribbon run through for ties. I’m afraid the meow would give him away however.

        Love it, Janet.

    • Andrew, I have never heard of these books … my youngest daughter wants to be a vet … would you recommend them for her? She is 13, and she is a reader!

  3. Thank you, Janet, for that encouragement. And I was thinking … it’s also a reminder that just because we get it right once, doesn’t mean that our job is over. When we lived in Fort Worth, I saw our mall’s Hallmark store close down. And where I live now, I’ve witnessed a Starbucks close. Never thought I’d see that. We have to keep thinking. Keep praying. Keep striving. Keep listening. And … keep serving.

    • Janet Grant says:

      The most likely reason a career or a store dies? Everyone settled into a rut and pleasant new surprises disappeared for readers or shoppers.

      • Borders is a case in point. I loved that chain – they carried an eclectic inventory, had a ‘homey’ atmosphere, and were easy to find in a strange city – their signs were so distinctive. When I traveled a lot, I always could depend on Borders as a place to spend an otherwise empty evening.

        But their website was dreadful, and they never really made the e-book transition. Those factors, and probable overextension, took them from us.

        Too soon!

      • Janet Grant says:

        Every bookstore chain lost is a loss on so many levels–for the community as well as the individual reader. It’s like a light that goes out.

    • And I love that being innovative applies to all of life … we can’t take good favor for granted. Our daughter had a kidney tumor as a baby … and this year (12 years later) we received a big scare over the health of her one remaining kidney. It was a wake up call … I had been taking good favor for granted. It was a reminder to do everything I can to keep that kidney strong and functioning, as far as it depends on me … and that can be just simply drinking more water from the storeroom! That simple solution is often there … we just have to see it and use it.

      And I’m loving all these posts that connect writing to Christmas. Bravo! I know it takes time … y’all are so appreciated. You are definitely stocking my storeroom!

      • Janet Grant says:

        Shelli, thanks for reminding us that the solution doesn’t have to be complex. Sometimes it’s a matter of first seeing the problem for what it is. We certainly can’t find the solution in the storeroom if we don’t understand the problem.

    • What was the best wrapped gift ever? You know. A baby “wrapped” in cloths and lying in a manger. Jesus. The best gift I ever received.

  4. Jeanne T says:

    I love this, Janet. 🙂 How wonderful that you put a value on the beauty of presentation. With two boys, they don’t much care how the gift looks so much as what’s inside the wrapping paper. When I wrap gifts for friends, though, I try to be more creative.

    When I’m tired, writing creativity doesn’t flow very fast, if at all. Having a store house of ideas is a great concept. I’m going to work on this. Probably in January when I’ve had more rest. 🙂

  5. Back when we had one child, and NO money,(as opposed to now, with 4 children and even less money) I turned the Saturday comics into wrapping paper. I’d save them for weeks and then use them on all kinds of gifts. And the funny thing was, people were reading the packages before they opened them!

    I noticed after leaving my MS alone for a month, because October and November ate me alive and now holy cow, it’s the 16th?!?!?!?!?!…umm, sorry…that I am pretty much ready to go into combat mode in January. Or wrestling mode. Or ‘smite-like-The Rock’ mode.
    I have work to do. And oddly enough, I WANT to get at it!!!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Jennifer, I’ve definitely used newspaper as gift wrap. I’ve also used sheet music and the plain side of paper bags. I guess I have more in common with the Hall brothers than I initially thought…

  6. Thanks for this, Janet. I love learning the origins of products and businesses, and Hallmark is one of my favorite places to browse. Merry Christmas!

  7. Loved today’s story of creativity with a dose of encouragement!

    I couldn’t wait to show your post to our daughter this morning, Janet. She LOVED the “How to Wrap a Cat” link! (After Christmas, we’re adopting a kitten. What fun!)

    Creatives, I think, are always on the hunt for innovative solutions that resonate. It’s hard to remain undaunted, though, when “normals” (nod to Brandilyn) see the world in black and white whereas creatives envision polka dots. Thank heaven for folks like the Hall brothers who not only thought outside of the box, but left a legacy of inspiration to with it!

    • Normals are so cute, aren’t they? All “Can you put my name in your book?”
      “Sure, even though it’s set in Borneo in 1278. I’m sure the name “Barbara-Jane” will slip by every single reader ever.”

      And well played “thought outside the box”. They sure did!!

  8. Lol Jennifer!

  9. Hi Jan,

    . . . I goes it all depends if the pony is: trained or untrained.

  10. As each generation passes, we may be losing a bit of the “Necessity is the mother of invention” wonder–nightstands from orange crates (oh, yes, I did) and all that.

    This post inspires me, Janet. What orange crate words do I have lying around that could be turned into something useful? What old story sweaters can be remade into mittens?

    I know a woman who mourned all her “single” earrings–missing their mate. She got out her jumper rings from her jewelry making kit and made darling necklaces from the mismatched earrings. Alone, they seemed useless. Together, they created art.

    I wonder if “Invention” is supposed to be my word-of-the-year for 2014?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Cynthia, I like the way you’re thinking! “Invention” would be such a lovely, challenging word for 2014. I’ll be eager to find out if that one continues to resonate as you consider it.

  11. Lisa Bogart says:

    So that explains it! When I bought stuff in Japan this summer they always wrapped it up so nicely, even at the drug store! There is still an art to the gift wrap there. teehee

    I LOVE wrapping packages. Just spent last night doing the second round. SO FUN!

    I also love your comment about going to the store closet for inventive ideas. It really rings true this year, I did not buy a single new wrapping item! Used all my creative juices with what was available. I am seeking the same in my writing too. Good advice.

  12. What a lovely post. I didn’t know the Hallmark story. My husband had a great aunt who believed in finding the perfect card, writing her note inside in perfectly straight, beautiful penmanship, and then selecting the most stunning way to wrap the gift–no matter what it was. No one, however, would accuse me of doing the same. I’ve been told I missed my calling as a doctor because no one–not even me sometimes–can read my writing. And let’s not talk about my inability to wrap gifts.

    This is what is great about upcycling. It never ceases to amaze me what people can repurpose materials into.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Cheryl, I’m not much of a stellar gift wrapper either. In high school, I had a chance to get a job at a major department store wrapping presents, but I never applied because I knew I’d be highlighting my lack of skills. There was much of anything to show off.

  13. I had to wrap a horse once.

  14. I love creative problem solving. I’d prefer to wrap a cat than a box. Gives me a puzzle to figure out :o).

  15. Anna Labno says:

    I don’t have means to give such expensive gifts. And I never owned a pony!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Anna, inexpensive gifts can be a challenge to wrap as well as expensive ones. Why, even wrapping a gift card can be a creative challenge since you don’t want the little mite to get lost under the tree.

  16. Diane Stortz says:

    My husband is a “master” of securing packages with blue painter’s tape. Innovative! But we head his efforts off whenever we can!

    I’ve never tried to wrap a cat, but I suspect it’s something like wrapping my house rabbits in a “bunny burrito” with a bath towel–snugly foiling their efforts to escape nail trims, tooth trims, or necessary meds.

    Loved the story behind Hallmark. Now, what’s in MY storeroom? Great question for the new year. And I’m glad to think I might already have a head start on some answers.

    Merry Christmas, everybody!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Diane, ah, yes, wrapping rabbits could be a challenge. The snuggly bath towel is a great solution. Wouldn’t it be a fun children’s book to pose silly solutions for how to gift wrap a pet? (Just a wild thought.)
      I’m eager to hear what you find as rummage around in your storeroom.