The Message In The Package
Diane W. Repasky
Over a half-century ago, my parents were the owners of the one drugstore in a one-drugstore town, and I worked there. It looked pretty much like Mr. Gower’s store in It’s A Wonderful Life – complete with the soda fountain … and at Christmas, many-a country farmer came in to purchase Christmas gifts for their wives … especially, little bottles of the era’s all-the-rage perfume (“eau de cologne” actually), which was Evening In Paris. It came, I remember, in sophisticated little French bottles, cobalt blue, with a shiny-silver pointed cap. …And these farmers … being farmers after all, and not particularly sophisticated themselves … wanted their delicate wifely presents gift-wrapped, for the ultimate presentation. So gift wrap, my parents did. Which, because I worked there, they taught me to do too.
We had big commercial bolts of wrapping paper, with every imaginable color of ribbon, and each farmer got to choose his (or his wife’s) favorite paper & ribbon. Which I then prettied-up on their package, much to their gladdened delight.
But the wrapping didn’t end there. At home, my parents were virtually professional Christmas gift wrappers, so elegant were their finished packages. And consequently there, my mother taught me the real art of gift wrapping. There were, you see, even in the ’60s, a multitude of different ribbons – long before Michael’s or JoAnn Fabrics. There was of course the standard curly ribbon (in two varieties: the “inexpensive” stuff, which curled “okay”, and the “deluxe” version, which made luxurious curls). There was satin ribbon (the real stuff; much richer in quality than today’s satin ribbon). There were acetate ribbon, grosgrain ribbon, mesh ribbon, metallic ribbon, shredding ribbon, wired ribbon, ribbon I don’t even remember. And there was velvet ribbon.
Now, the thing about all these ribbons was that each type was meant to make a particular kind of bow. It wasn’t that you couldn’t make other bows with “that” kind of ribbon, but anyone with an eye for gift-wrapping knew what type of bow “that” ribbon was “supposed” to make. And did so. –And this is what my mother taught me. How to make each type of ribbon’s “specialty” type of bow.
…. I can just see us now, sitting cross-legged on the bedroom floor a half-century ago, with a large box of assorted ribbons – all colors; all types; all widths; all textures – spread on the floor beside us. Meticulously, painstakingly tying each tiny (or enormous) bow. For each individual’s gift. And the countless hours it took to do so.
The Master Wrapper, though, was my father. Even his mother-in-law, my beloved Grandma Gussie, used to say that the prettiest gifts around were always the ones he wrapped for her and my mother. –Which was true!, and which finally brings me to the core of my story.
–It was this one special gift Dad wrapped one year for my mother. I’ll try to describe it. First, there was the paper. It was very heavy & expensive. Its pattern was of lighted Christmas candles. And they glowed, with halos around each one. The background was dabbled in soft, buttery yellows-to-whites, and the candles were a soft white. At their base were barely-present browns of pine cones and wooden sprigs. The candle flames were soft yellow, fading to white, and ending in those halos. “Wax” dripped down the sides of the candles. But the most striking feature of this already-lovely paper was its finishing touch: Very subtle & occasional highlights of silver glitter, accenting the circle of the halos and the dripping wax. –It was truly such lovely paper that, 5 decades later, I can still see it.
…. But the crown on this package was its bow. The box itself wasn’t very large – about the size of a man’s shirt box, so the bow wasn’t enormous either; just the perfect size for the box. What was its special feature though, was the actual ribbon my father chose. It was velvet. Yellow velvet. Golden-yellow velvet. In the same family as, but deeper than, the yellows of the paper. And his bow was exquisite: Full and perfect, yet not overdone or too wide for the box. But even his ends were cut into the perfect inverted Vs.
I have no idea what was in that box. I never have. For all these years, I’ve tried to remember what the gift was inside. But to no avail! All I can remember is the lovely, lovely package. –Which, I guess, is really something, considering that a) I’m rather materialistic so I should definitely remember the contents; b) I’m in my 60s, yet remember one wrapped box (not even for “me”) from over 50 years ago.
–Yet for decades, when every Christmas rolls around, that special box from my father to my mother invariably crosses my mind. –And you know what? With it, my father unknowingly gave me a present that I have lived with all my life. And it is the lesson he unwittingly taught me with that one wrapped gift to his wife …..
That, with that lovely package, he not only said to my mother, “Merry Christmas, Darling.” He additionally said to her, “You are so special, Darling. And this is how much I love you.“
Whatever his gift was inside the box, my father found my mother the most lovely paper he could acquire. He chose the most expensive ribbon available (velvet), and matched it perfectly to both the paper and the size of the package. He wrapped it with care (oh, did I forget to tell you?: the edges of wrapping paper must not only be folded in to hide a “raw edge”, but folded in twice, so that even when you unwrap it, you don’t see a raw edge “under there”). And he put it all together to present to his wife a gift so beautiful that their daughter – a child!; a mere child! – has remembered it and the message it spoke for her entire life.
So consequently, for every one of my Christmases, as I raised my own family, wrapping Christmas gifts — with the utmost meticulous care, so that each and every individual gift I give is visibly, obviously the most special it can be – is not only something I ardently do … it is, by appearance alone, the way I say to its recipient, “You are special. This is not just a gift. This is how much I love you.”
–It is true: I have always tried to think hard about the contents of the gifts I give, so that my presents are gifts from my heart to the heart of the recipient. I choose my gifts with care. But going that extra mile, taking the time with that extra step of time-invested wrapping reinforces it. Says to the recipient, “You are important to me. I care. I love you. This much.” So my gift is not just “a gift”. It’s not just “money-in-a-box”, with some paper wound around it & a store-bought bow. Each gift contains a message – with not just what’s inside, but in the very package itself.
O Holy Night
“For God So Loved The World That He Gave His Only Begotten Son, That Whosoever Believeth In Him Should Not Perish, But Have Everlasting Life.” —John 3:16 KJV
“For God So Loved The World That He Gave His One And Only Son, That Whoever Believes In Him Shall Not Perish But Have Eternal Life.” — John 3:16 NIV
… And now I come to the Real Meaning of CHRISTmas. God’s Gift. To us. The One
And Only Reason we give gifts to each other.
When you think about CHRISTmas, at face value, some key elements of the original Story seem in stark contrast to my story of Christmas wrapping. No velvet ribbon there. No wrapping paper with silvery-glitter highlights. Only: No room in the inn. No crib for a bed. The Son Of God sleeping his first earthly nights in a feeding trough for animals.
But what has CHRISTmas become these days, except for mostly a bunch of Christmas gifts? So what’s “just one more present from just one more person”? Is there really any genuine significance to it? Or at least, to most of them? What are we really saying to the people we love when we give them just another wrapped box among several, with a bow we bought for 79-cents at the store? How much love are we showing them? How special are we showing them we think they are? That they are special because of the price of whatever happens to be inside the box that, yes, we spent our money on … but that we just threw together as quickly as possible, to move on to the next one, without spending the heart of ourselves to actually give it?
It seems to me that, if we really want to show a person the extent of our love, we should carry our gifts to them all the way through, to the end. And to me, that “end” is the message the package itself conveys: “You are special. And I love you This Much.”
…. Back to my own experiences in the 60+ years, I’ve lived. Several years ago, I was exchanging Christmas gifts with another adult; someone quite close to me. No, not my husband, but someone close enough that they knew my life story; knew well the story of my father’s yellow-wrapped gift to my mother – and its significance; knew well the significance I placed (& place) on “The Message In The Package”. And it was someone who had long & invariably been the personal recipient of just such gifts from me. But on that Christmas day, we sat in the room & opened our gifts to each other. When I was handed mine, I saw it had a store-bought bow – the kind that comes 20-30 per bag. The paper was haphazardly put on it. And when I unwrapped it, inside was indeed a box. A partial Rice Krispies box. It was cut apart & taped back together to fit the size of its contents. Part of the “Snap-Crackle-Pop” guys’ picture stared out at me, and its re-assembling Scotch tape was scattered around on reconfigured “sides” here & there.
I opened my gift – but just like 50 years ago, I can’t remember what was inside. I only remember the package. And the message it conveyed.
It literally hurt me. It injured me. It made me feel small & belittled & insignificant & unimportant. Especially since this person KNEW what was important to me in gift wrapping, and WHY … but even without that … the message this package gave me was that I was only worth the CARE & CONSIDERATION & TIME & LOVE of a dissected box of cereal.
…. And now back to Baby Jesus. Our Savior. Why is He our Savior? Yes, He was born in a stable. –But what was the message of His life? The very essence of it? His whole entire life? Was it not to love one another? As He did? As His Father did? When asked what was the Greatest Commandment, did He not say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”? (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV) –Placing loving another person as so important that He compared it to loving God?
…. Anyway, when I was asked to write a Christmas story for you, this is the story I chose to tell. Ironically, on the day I was asked to write it, earlier in the day, I had just repeated to my husband Larry (for probably the 100th time) the story of my father’s yellow-wrapped gift to my mother. And the phrase I repeated to him at the end of it, over-&-over, was my father’s unspoken message to my mom: “This is how much I love you. This is how much I love you.”
Wasn’t that God’s phrase, His Message, in even sending us His Only Son? And wasn’t it Christ’s, in His entire life’s ministry? Right through to the Gift of His death? And Resurrection?
“This is how much I love you. This is how much I love you. This is how much I love you.” …….
May The Love that is CHRISTmas be with you. Always, and All Ways.