Boomers Were Christmas Wrappers

The holiday season is underway once more, so Mister Boomer thought he’d take a look at a trend that, in his experience, stands out in stark contrast to the traditions of the boomer years: gift wrapping vs. gift bags.

It can be unequivocally said that Christmas gifts in the prime boomer years (1950’s, ’60s, ’70s) were wrapped. They may not have always been wrapped well, but they were wrapped. The manner of wrapping could vary from family to family, but wrapping was part of the deal. When you think about it, why not? Isn’t half the fun of opening a gift the anticipation while unwrapping it?

Somewhere around the 1970s, Mister Boomer became aware that some people were abandoning gift wrapping in favor of dropping a gift into a bag. Historically speaking, gift bags were used in several cultures in Asia for thousands of years. The people in Mister Boomer’s circle only used a gift bag when the gift was a wine bottle that could use a specialty bag. The entire premise of using a gift bag, in Mister B’s view, is to drop a gift in, cinch the top, and you are ready to give. While that sort of convenience has always appealed to boomers, in Mister B’s neighborhood it just was not the norm. In Mister B’s estimation, using a gift bag is tantamount to raising a white flag — an unconditional surrender. It says “I am no good at gift wrapping, so this is great.” In a worst case scenario, it can imply, “I picked this bag up at the drug store on the way over, so you can only imagine how much thought I put into picking out your gift.”

Mister Boomer’s family had specific traditions when it came to gift wrapping: tape judiciously because if at all possible, the wrapping paper would be saved for reuse in the next year, and put a pre-made bow on it. There were other families who went all out, matching ribbons and bows to the wrapping paper. Mister B had an aunt who not only beautifully wrapped her gifts and finished them with ribbon and bows, but added seasonal bits into the bow, like holly or pine cones. At an early age, Mister B and his siblings were shown the proper way to wrap a gift with as little tape as possible. Saving was a key element, which also carried over to the lower quality of wrapping paper and non-brand cellophane tape that was common in the family during those years.

An oddly-shaped gift posed a challenge. Mister B and his siblings generally solved the problem in a patchwork style, joining pieces of old wrapping paper to cover the shape. Copious amounts of tape were going to be used for those, so at least they were reusing paper from previous years. Through it all, the underlying message was that a personally-wrapped gift was as important as selecting the right gift for the person.

As Mister B entered his teen years and had a job, he added curling ribbon to his wrappings, and made his bows from the curling ribbon. A few years later, Mister B discovered the joy of using better quality wrapping paper; it folded so well, and was generally thicker and “classier” than the repeated wreaths, bells, ornaments, Santas, and snowmen of the cheaper sale brands.

Opening a gift on Christmas morning at Mister Boomer’s home was a little less chaotic than in other families. There was a ritual to follow that required one of the kids to open a gift before the next could open one. While Mister B’s mom would prefer that care be taken in the unwrapping process, that was not always the case. Early on, Mister B was fastidious in his unwrapping, following the tape lines, knowing the larger the piece of paper left intact, the more chance it could be saved and reused in another year. His siblings did not always keep the thought in mind, tearing into each gift with child-like abandon.

By contrast, where is the time to savor the anticipation of receiving a gift when the unwrapping process is to open it like a bag of chips? In the decades since the boomer years, gift bags became readily available in any number of sizes. In some ways, this evolution follows the convenience track — the less time the better — that boomers embraced in so many categories as adults. Boomers grew up with the mantra that convenience meant progress. Still, as boomers have learned, convenience changes things; while it can be subjective whether these changes are for the better or worse, it is different.

Speaking of different, how about gifting from a distance, now that so many families and friends live apart? To Mister B, worse than receiving a gift bag is the “your gift is being shipped.” The package arrives and the receiver unceremoniously slices open a pouch or box, pretty much like a gift bag without the holiday colors.

Mister Boomer can’t help but feel that more than a little has been lost for both the giver and the receiver. For kids, however, it poses the question of how will they remember opening gifts when they come in bags?

How about it boomers? Is Mister B being overly nostalgic, or do you agree that gift bags are a menace to the meaning of gift giving?

Boomers Celebrated a Different Memorial Day

Memorial Day was not declared an official national holiday by Congress until 1971. The origins of the day go back to at least 1868, when it was dubbed Decoration Day; it was a holiday set aside to honor Union soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the Civil War. From its earliest inception, the day was meant for the solemn remembrance of military war dead.

Depending on where boomers lived, they might have had very different experiences regarding Memorial Day in their youth. Not every state marked the occasion, and those that did, might have had a different focus. As the generation that lived during the Civil War began to dwindle, celebrations of the day changed to include those who died in WWI, then WWII. In 1968, Congress acted to move several holidays to specific Mondays in order to create long weekends; this law passed in 1971, creating the modern Memorial Day weekend we celebrate today.

Mister Boomer lived in a state that marked the day as a state holiday since 1871. In the 1950s, Mister B recalls not only getting a day off from school, but going to his town’s annual Memorial Day parade. It was a day filled with marching bands, American flags, military veterans and politicians. As a young boomer, though, Mister B also remembers the grilled hot dogs supplied by a local veterans’ organization.

Mister Boomer, like practically all boomers, had parents and relatives who served during World War II in various capacities. As decades have passed, it can be difficult to remember that the dawn of the Baby Boom began at the end of the War. In the 1950s and ’60s, memories of the War were very fresh for most families. In the 1950s, the President of the United States had been the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces; the president who followed was famously a Navy PT boat captain. Memories of the War, and those who perished in it, were front and center a decade or two later.

It was during the boomer years that the evolution of the holiday grew from a solemn one to a tie-in for holiday weekend sales, backyard barbecues and the unofficial beginning of summer. Mister Boomer surmises it was in part because our parents, the ones who lived through the Great Depression and fought the Great War, wanted something better for their children. As such, many would not talk about their war experiences. Mister B was an adult before he knew that all but one of his uncles saw combat in Europe during the War. By the 1960s, his family marked the holiday with an annual picnic at a state park, that included all of his aunts, uncles and cousins.

So much has changed in the decades since the beginning of the Boomer Generation. Society evolves, in some ways for the better, in others, maybe not. If you had a family member who served and died, your perception of the holiday may be different from those who did not. Whether you visit a cemetery, go buy a mattress or fire up the backyard grill this weekend, Mister Boomer wishes you the best.

Did your family celebrate Memorial Day when you were young, boomers? Has that changed as you have aged?