This is the third article in December of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on December 19, 1909, and touches on the art of gift giving.
Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.
As We Give the Gift
IS THERE anything new to be said about putting up or sending out or presenting gifts?
I thought not, until last Christmas, and then I had a novel notion come my way–as, indeed, one had been impressed upon me at almost every Christmas for some years previous. Since we have taken to tissue paper and ribbon and the like, new inventions have multiplied.
My new idea last Christmas came in the form of dinner table favors which were, in reality, attractive and amusing gifts. A big Christmas bell in bright scarlet was put in the middle of the dinner table. It was not hung, but set flat on the table. Radiating from it were ribbons, the further end of each under the plate of one of the guests. The “home end,” if you might call it so, was, of course, under the bell.
While the soup was in eating many were the conjectures as to what the ribbons meant. As soon as the plates of the first course were removed the ribbons were pulled, each member of the party taking his or her turn. From under the bell, which was lifted slightly by the ribbon which connected it with the chandelier overhead, were drawn tissue-paper wrapped parcels of various shapes, which, when opened, were found to be “double-headers,” in that each contained an amusing and a useful or valuable gift.
For example, the tea devotee of the family received a small tea set arranged on a tiny tray, and in the sugar bowl lurked a ring for which she had long yearned. To the hunter of the party was given a stuffed rabbit, with a ribbon about its beck fastened with a handsome scarfpin. A large brass locket bestowed upon one held, instead of a picture, a $10 gold piece; while a tin lunchbox which fell to the lot of another contained a valuable book which he had expressed a wish for. All this came as a sort of aftermath of the morning distribution of gifts, and was a charming surprise to every one.
In the same fashion I have heard of a bell to which ribbons were attached connecting with cards which told the recipient where to find a gift which had been prepared for him. A variant of this were cards of ribbons telling the children that there were gifts for them concealed in certain parts of the house, and setting the youngsters scampering after their presents as soon as the meal was over. A little Christmas tree in the middle of the table, bearing gifts for the guests, is not a novelty, but it is always pleasing.
Of course, there are all sorts of ways of presenting gifts to the home people. To hang them on the Christmas tree or heap them about its base, or put them in the stockings the children and grown-ups hang up, is as old as the hills, and none the worse on that account. In some households a chair in the living room is denoted to each member of the household and the gifts placed there for them. The problem of making the presentation to the people in the home is a comparatively simple matter. It is when we are putting up and sending out gifts that our ingenuity is taxed.
After all the innovations, perhaps there is no prettier fashion of sending out Christmas gifts than by wrapping them in white or tinted tissue paper and trying them up with bright ribbons, perhaps sticking a bit of evergreen or a sprig of holly under the ribbon bow. This is not tedious work, because one does not so consider it at Christmas time, but it makes a pull upon something most of us have to count, and that is money. We did not feel it so much in the day when we used handkerchief ribbons to tie with and treasured pieces of tissue paper which we smoothed out and freshened as best we could for wrapping and binding the parcels. But now, since competition and fashion have made themselves felt in the doing up of Christmas presents, as in almost everything, we are not willing to fall behind in the race. So we buy tissue paper by the quire and ribbon by the bolt, and often we are not even contented with the baby ribbon which filled the measure of our desires only a little time ago. No! there are ribbons brocaded in holly and in violets and in poinsettias that we must get now—and the broader the better!
Just as sensible persons had to assert themselves some years back in protest against the elaborate Christmas cards which had ceased to be merely affectionate reminders and became expensive constructions of pasteboard and silk and satin, so those of us who still wish to make more of the present than of its wrapping must call a halt. A step in the right direction has been made by the introduction of paper tape in silver and gold and colors, and the use pf tiny paper seals. With these, or the gayly tinted tissue papers that come you can make as pretty a parcel as any one need rejoice to receive on Christmas morning.
One word about the cards. I have said that gorgeous cards were renounced by those of us who thought the sumptuousness of tokens which were meant to be merely inexpensive reminder was making a kindly custom absurd. Elaborate confections of this sort have practically disappeared, but in their place has come the hand-painted card on which we spend as much money as would suffice to purchase a present which is really worth keeping and cherishing.
I do not wish to condemn Christmas cards, but, honestly, haven’t we had too many of certain kind? Don’t we feel a little inclined to groan when we view the costly bits of decorated pasteboard which litter our rooms after the holidays? Then they lie on desk, table and mantle, too pretty, and yet, it may be add[???], representing too much money, f[???] us to feel justified in dumping them into the waste basket. Instead, [???] that we keep them about until they are dusty and soiled, never having wo[???] more than an instant’s passing pleasure from them, and finally they go into the fire.
Of course, there are charitable institutions which are glad to receive Christmas cards for their children and poor people, but they would be as well satisfied with a card which cost 5 cents as with one w[???] cost 50, and the former would have one as well to bring your friend to your remembrance.
Cannot we rather reform on the Christmas card question and put something better in its place? If you wish to spend more than a few cents on a gift to a friend, there are little books—not cheap ones, either, but those that are well bound and worth keeping—which would be no more expensive than the showy card. And if the memento is to be sent to a friend on whom you mean to expend but little, do you not think she would value a letter from you more than a dozen cards?
The letter would take a longer time to write and give more trouble? True. But this is Christmas, and the Christmas spirit is not that which makes a gift of the easiest thing to do. We are all of us too much given to compounding with our Yuletide consciences by buying a card or its equivalent and sticking it into an envelope and making that take the place of the expression of loving through or good will which our own pens could send more acceptably.
If the gift without the giver is bare, then many a Christmas present goes forth stripped to the bone. There is no grace of the giver in the present which is sent with no mark of loving remembrance. The poorly put-up bundle which takes tenderness with it means more than a gorgeous hand-painted card which goes into its envelope with. “There! I forgot Aunt Jane; but this card will look stunning to her, and it’s the quickest thing to send.”
Make your Christmas presents beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside; outdo yourself in planning to give them to the family in novel and attractive fashions, but, above all, don’t forget, in putting up your parcels, to slip in the most important addition: the loving thought, the individual attention which makes a brief letter in an everyday envelope stand for more than the handsomest gift sent unlovingly from the biggest and most expensive shop.
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