Gift-wrapping and presentation is a big part of a Keane family Christmas. At some point in the distant past, my older sister Megan developed an interest in origami and began shaming everyone with her holiday presentations. First it was standard origami flowers, but grew more elaborate every year. She started making her own wrapping paper, attaching folded paper animals to the packaging, and generally making all of us look like chumps. The high point came when Megan gave me a video set of The Usual Suspects, wrapped in paper adorned with Verbal Kint's various monologues (my favorite part was the flap that read "Orca fat") and topped with a paper coffee mug and fake coffee spill.
My little sisters and I could not compete with that, nor could we even try. She was years ahead of us. We had neither the discipline nor the fine-motor skills to catch up. So, we focused on making funny cards.
I don't mean to condemn the artistic skills of my younger sisters. Both of them can draw, and both can wrap competently. I had to rely on jokes envisioning the North Pole as Pleasant Hill, and insults to other family members because I can't even draw a car.
Eventually, cards became more anticipated than the gifts themselves. We used to stay up late on Christmas Eve to finish wrapping presents. Now we stay up late desperately coloring in our cards, figuring out just the right colored pencil to best complete a rude caricature of Grandma. Grandma is not allowed to see many of the holiday cards.
In the same way that punk rock emerged as a response to the perceived excesses of 1970's rock, our bare-bones holiday wrapping aesthetic was a direct answer to Megan. It only got worse over the years. One year, all my gifts were wrapped in the Sunday comics. Another year, I used aluminum foil, which was both gross and mildly dangerous to the recipients' hands. For birthdays, no one bothered to wrap gifts, choosing instead to fold the presents up in blankets or towels we found lying around the house.
This year, Molly has broken new ground by wrapping her gifts in ads. Not even magazine or newspaper ads, but rather Safeway mailers. She confessed that she had to do a lot of double- or triple-wrapping, because she managed to find wrapping material that was somehow less solid than newsprint. My gift was wrapped in the back pages of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, perhaps to indicate that, were I disappointed by my gift, I could console my myself with an Asian Muscle Massage at competitive prices.
"Wash your hands after you unwrap the presents," she warned. "I found that Guardian in the recycle bin."
Since Molly lives in a forest, works at a homeless shelter, and makes approximately $12,000 per year, not counting her food stamps, we don’t mind her limitations. Her cards featured no art, just top ten lists. The "cards" were actually just scraps of paper she’d torn off the bottom of her mail. Her lists went over well, especially the two that dealt with an agreement between my parents that my father can wear a particular ugly sweatshirt in the garage, but not in the house.
Molly has raised the bar severely for future Navidad cards by using actual trash. There's no way my wrapping is getting fancier, so I am already planning for next year, when my family members will get cards written on torn pieces of men's underwear I buy at Goodwill. With a faded Sharpie, I will scrawl, "This Christmas, you can kiss my ass". And it will be beautiful.