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 Grew Up With the Hess Truck

The tradition of the annual Hess toy truck at Christmas is a ubiquitous promotion on TV these days, but its origin occurred in the boomer heydays. Hess started as a home heating oil delivery service in 1933, but has morphed into a worldwide crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company currently owned by Chevron.

For boomer children in certain states, the story begins in 1960 when Hess opened its first gas station in New Jersey. By 1964, Hess gas stations formed a regional chain spanning several eastern and midwestern states. That was the first year Hess offered a toy truck, and the tradition began. The original toy was a tanker that kids could fill with water. Through a hose attached to the tank, the water could be emptied — delivered — where the child wanted. The truck was sold exclusively at Hess gas stations. It was meant to be a replica of the type of tankers that Hess used to deliver fuel.

Eventually, the gas stations could be found in most states east of the Mississippi. The annual sale of a toy truck continued for 16 more years, with each year offering a different style of vehicle. Hess released a new truck each year, except for 1973, 1979 and 1981, when the Middle East oil embargoes interrupted the new truck releases. Up until 1979, the annual toy sale was only advertised in local newspapers and at Hess gas stations, but then the first TV commercial aired in 1980 (according to the company; others on YouTube claim to have uncovered TV commercials from the late 1970s). That is where the story gets interesting for boomers.

The Hess TV commercial from 1980 used a rock instrumental version of Deck the Halls. That soundtrack appears to have been used in Hess truck commercials throughout the 1980s, but Mister Boomer was able to discover a 1989 TV commercial that used an extended version of the jingle we hear on Hess truck commercials today. The distinctive TV commercial jingle intoning, The Hess truck’s back and it’s better than ever… is immediately identifiable by boomers. The song melody that became the basis for the commercial jingle is none other than My Boyfriend’s Back, made popular by The Angels in 1963! Hess has continued to use the jingle, including this year.

In 2014, Hess sold its gas station business to Marathon Petroleum. As a result, Hess stations were closed in 2015. However, the toy continues to be sold online at the Hess truck website. Boomers, who may have received a Hess truck when they were children, may have also continued the tradition with their children and grandchildren. Those longtime buyers will be happy to know that Hess continues to supply the batteries for the toys, the same as it has since 1964.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever receive a Hess truck as a gift? Did you ever purchase one for your own children or grandchildren?