This column has already appeared in The Times of Southwest Louisiana for October, 2007. Etiquetteer was told on submission that a column on preparations for Christmas was the scariest type of Hallowe'en column!
As a newlywed this is the first Christmas when I face the issue of holiday giving that is truly from "both of us." My beloved isn't known for his fanciness in gift giving. He sincerely tells me that it’s a tradition in his family to present gifts without a card and unwrapped, just tossed in the bag from the store in which it was purchased. I certainly don't want to show up my spouse or his family by violating a longstanding family tradition, but I would like to extend to my new in-laws thoughtful gifts in decorative wrapping that reflect well on "both of us." Any advice?
Eleanor Roosevelt used to say "The box is half the gift."* Somebody else said "Don’t monkey with tradition." And a second somebody else probably said something like "Hell hath no fury like a mother-in-law." On the other hand, your husband’s family tradition of "wrapping" Christmas presents in the bags they came in just sucks the Spirit of Giving right out of Christmas for Etiquetteer.
Etiquetteer must now make a confession: Etiquetteer just can’t wrap a Christmas present and make it look perfect. Somehow the corners of the wrapping paper get bunched up, or it isn’t cut evenly, or the bow is crooked. But Etiquetteer doesn’t let that stop him from actually wrapping gifts! An unwrapped gift just doesn’t feel a special to the recipient as does something wrapped. If one can see what one’s present is when one gets it, where’s the excitement of guessing?
For this first Christmas with your husband’s family, Etiquetteer would advise against a whole lot of fancy wrapping. Whatever gifts you choose, substitute some of those excellent Christmas gift bags you can find almost anywhere. You’re still within your new family’s tradition of giving gifts in bags, but it’s at least one cut above the store bag
With the holiday season nearly upon us and my coffers not what they once were, I'm thinking about doing some bulk cooking this season. Perhaps lots of cookies or candies or some other tasty morsels. My idea is that this would be my one-size-fits-all gift for party hosts, office assistants, landlady, cousins, etc. I do feel a bit guilty though about the mass production of the presents. Yes, they're not turned out by faceless workers in China but by my own sugared hands, yet it does feel a tad in its nature “impersonal.” Am I being excessively concerned?
Yes, very excessively concerned! You yourself may feel like a "faceless worker in China" by the time you get through baking a dozen dozen cookies, but the recipients will still enjoy them. To create some variety for yourself, use different types of containers and ribbons and cards for each recipient.
Henrietta Nesbitt, Eleanor Roosevelt’s housekeeper through all four Roosevelt administrations, was not much of a housekeeper (Bess Truman fired her) but an excellent baker. Every year she routinely baked 200 pounds or more of fruitcake for the Roosevelts to send to friends, employees, and the needy. Listing all the fruits that needed to be prepared, Mrs. Nesbitt concluded "I defy any woman to chop up fruits like these, all pungent and sugary, and keep up any personal brooding. Fruitcake mixing can be heartily recommended as a cure-all for grouches and blues."
So as you commence your holiday baking, Etiquetteer hopes you will look upon the handiwork issuing from your kitchen as an agent of Joy that you have prepared specifically for a certain individual.
* Quotations cited in this column come from "White House Diary," by Henrietta Nesbitt, "F.D.R.’s Housekeeper," Doubleday, 1948.