For most of us, it's a Christmas afterthought. But to a growing number the wrapping of a Christmas present is every bit as important as the gift inside, and messy wrapping is the ultimate festive faux pas.
By Claire Heald
BBC News Magazine
Christmas Eve, and boxes of unwrapped gifts pile up on the floor, scraps of ill-fitting paper litter the carpet. What sticky tape remains, is stuck to itself or knotted around frustrated fingers.
Irregular-shaped toys threaten to take up all the paper, which, pulled taut around corners, tears, along with the last shred of festive spirit.
Ah, wrapping the Christmas presents. A time-pressured search for scissors, sticky-tape, sanity, and a third hand for holding down folded paper.
Tools of the trade
But as everything about Christmas becomes more elaborate, so, in some circles at least, has the wrapping. And for those that fail in that department, there are even present wrapping classes.
Women predominate on such courses, although some would say it's men who are most in need of a little schooling in such matters. Course topics include which tools and paper to pick, tackle the big question - how to cover awkward shapes - and offer money-saving tricks to impress relatives with added extras.
HOW TO WRAP
1. Be prepared. Before you start have paper, scissors, tape and accessories ready
2. On box shapes, don't use too much paper. Have a 5cm overlap, fold a neat narrow strip over, crease edges, keep it short at the ends
3. Choose flexible paper for awkward shapes. Pleat around them and gather ends at the top
4. Save money with cheap, wired ribbon and homemade embellishments like holly, cinnamon sticks or cones
"My partner and my Dad are dreadful at wrapping, and I usually do it for them," says Liz, from London. "But my brother is super-neat. There is also fierce competition between my girl friends, who always do the nicest wrapping paper and ribbons."
Double-sided sticky tape and making the correct paper calculations are key tips, says Jane Means, a professional wrapping teacher. She trains retailers in how to wrap gifts in as little as 40-seconds but she also dispenses advice to ordinary folk who just want to polish up their presentation.
Bad prep and the wrong paper means frayed Christmas spirit...
"A lot of men just want to get the item wrapped because they believe the gift is what's important," she says. "If they just don't know how to do it or it's something they don't enjoy, they want to make life easier. But women want the wow factor of how the present looks, as well as what's inside."
They are leaning skills, from Japanese pleating (the art of folding paper to fit awkward presents) to using cinnamon sticks and pine cones to spice up a gift. The challenge becomes: can you spend less on the wrapping than the gift itself?
Preparation is all, says Ms Means, although many of her tips involve saving money:
• paper on a roll, with a less festive design, can be used year-round
• don't string ribbon around the whole present in a cross, just cover the shortest loop
• be converted to double-sided tape
Of course, this all flies in the face of those who think Christmas should be about more than naked materialism (how quaint), but wrapping with a flourish is nothing new in the US, Japan and Europe.
Yes, it can get competitive, admits Ms Means: "For a lot of people the wrapping is done at the 11th hour, but for others, it has to be just so."
...or giving up completely
But she rebuffs the idea that it is a waste of time - not just because of her business, but because it means people can choose what they buy, rather than leaving challenging shapes on the shelf.
"Once they've learned the easy way, they're delighted. And if you can make a little bit of an effort, men do appreciate it as well as women."
For the style conscious among you, this year's wrapping trends include a bit of "Shaker-style" gingham, velvets, and traditional tartan - a bit of a "mix and match" approach, she adds.
And, no matter how prepared, with just five wrapping days to go until Christmas, that can only be good news for the novice wrappers.
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
I adore wrapping Christmas presents and chose a colour theme each year, purchasing matching paper, bows, ribbon and name tags. One bottle of wine, a couple of festive DVD's and it's a great Saturday afternoon as far as I'm concerned.
Kirsty K, St Andrews
My fiancÚ never wraps anything, just bans me from looking in the bags of a certain bookstore after he's bought my gift... The year he doesn't give me a book will be a year to cheer!
Danie Jones, Cambridge, England
What a waste of money and resource. We use sheets of A1 scrap paper from work with the printed side on the inside and plain white on the outside. If we want to make it a bit more festive we get the felt pens out and draw our own pictures on the outside. Our children can be kept busy for hours decorating their own presents!
Philip Moore, Seaford, East Sussex
My 2 year old daughter certainly doesn't care for all that - she just rips the paper open - like most of my adult friends!!!
My golden rule is "re-use if possible". I always use old wrapping paper if possible - until it falls apart!
Katherine, London, UK
Having gift-wrapped professionally for Christmas 2000 and 2001, I can tell you that the real experts use neither single nor double-sided tape. We use just ribbon. It means the present can be more elegantly unwrapped (and also, the ultimate money-saver, that the paper can be re-used).
Lucy Jones, Manchester
Keep up sweetie - some of us have been at it for years! If I got a present wrapped better than the one I gave I'd be mortified!
What I do want to know is how to then transport the presents without crushing all the ribbon?
Pam, Teesside, UK
For the ladies in my life I never rely on conventional wrapping paper, I always have a selection of velvet bags complete with gold piping and drawstrings to place any presents in. Another tip is to use photos of yourself as wrapping paper. I once covered a boxed antique music box in pictures of myself in various outfits and poses, plus she got to keep the wrapping afterwards. Almost as good as the present itself!
Bobby Deaves, Liverpool, UK
This year, to help with the goal of having an eco-Christmas, I've wrapped all my family's presents in old newspaper, which I've asked them to recycle. It looks much better than you might imagine.
Matthew H, London
I love wrapping presents but all of mine are in boxes so it's a lot easier. My tip for the festive season is - buy things in boxes!!
Darren Moore, Hornchurch, Essex
I save nice paper bags (the sort with handles) from retailers throughout the year and then at Christmas time I cover their logo with a cut out from an old Christmas card. The result is really quite impressive and also very environmentally friendly.
Did the three wise men with myrrh, gold and frankincense, when visiting Jesus, go to any vast expense of wrapping gifts? The joy is in the giving with love and care, so be glad of such a gift.
Jeannie Ashplant, Cheltenham
This year, like last, I've bought everyone charity presents - from Oxfam, GoodGifts and the RSPB. Very awkward shapes - a health worker, a few acres of rainforest, bearded-tit nest boxes - but there's no wrapping required!
I just use silver cooking foil. If it's good enough for the turkey...
No really, it looks pretty cool!
Cmdr. Adama, Yorktown
Amateurs! My present wrapping has 5 year arcing themes. I'm currently doing the five senses. For taste I iced chocolate reindeers onto the ribbon. For smell I used wooden stars drenched in Christmassy essential oils. For hearing I sewed bells.
I might have a break next year though and wrap everything in brown paper.
Helen, London, UK
In Watford, the week before Christmas, the local churches set up a "Christmas Wrap" stall in the shopping mall. A gift from the churches of Watford to the people of Watford. I really enjoy taking part in this and getting to wrap beautiful gifts for people who don't like wrapping.
Edna Sansom, Rickmansworth
I'm doomed! I do my best, but there is usually one present that defeats my attempts to wrap neatly. This year's biggest challenge was the squeaky rubber chicken I got for the dog.
Kate, Oxford, UK
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