Growing up in a peripatetic Navy family, we not only moved every two years or so, we also rarely lived near our families, so we saw little of the people from whom our parents had sprung. Grandparents were occasional visitors, and aunts, uncles, and cousins were people we knew mostly from photographs on Christmas cards.
I knew Aunt Sally Hyland because she always sent me frilly, girly presents - nightgowns that were confections of lace and gossamer, a delight to a little tomboy who usually wore flannel and denim. Aunt Sally Baylis could be counted on for mad money once we were old enough to enjoy that. Uncle Ed Whiting was more likely to send a Christmas card than a present, roughly signed in his bold hand. Aunt Virginia Peel's beloved fruitcake arrived in packages reeking of brandy every year at Christmas (happily, they still do!). And Uncle Sam Silber, who wasn't really an uncle at all but a dear family friend, always sent us Seven Layer Cake from his Baltimore bakery for all important occasions.
It was Aunt Mary Hyland, my Dad's older sister, whose presents were always my favorites. I can say this now because, except for Aunt Virginia, the rest are safely in heaven and Aunt Virginia doesn't read my blog. I loved those lacy nightgowns and the Seven Layer Cake - in fact, I loved the marvel of presents from people who barely knew me at all. But, Aunt Mary's gifts were special because they always came beautifully wrapped with matching cards. It know it sounds like a little thing but, to a girl raised by a practical mother with four children on a junior officer's salary, I was more likely to get presents wrapped in the Sunday funnies than wrapped with elegance and attention to detail.
I used to untie carefully the ribbons and ease open the tape on Aunt Mary's presents, trying to preserve the pristine paper and intricate bows. What came inside was almost secondary in my mind to those beautiful wrappings. To this day, I try to make every present I wrap a small homage to Aunt Mary.
When we lived in Japan, I learned that the Japanese are like me in their reverence for a beautifully wrapped package. They showed us a new and wonderful way to give a gift, wrapped in a furoshiki. A furoshiki is a simple, usually square, cloth with bound edges that the Japanese use to wrap presents, or to transport things. It can be any color and have any design. There are lovely ways to wrap a gift using a furoshiki, ways that amaze me with their beauty and inventiveness. Being an impatient person, I usually just use the basic wrap, but the Japanese are masters of this art.
The best thing about a furoshiki is that, in addition to being beautiful and practical - since it also serves as a handle - it is reusable. You can give your furoshiki as part of the gift, or collect it once the gift is given to use again. I have three and they all came from my mother, who so loved Japan that she embraced many of their customs. I must admit that, when I use these three, I ask for them back - they are a small memento of my Mom.
But, when I use other ones, they become part of the gift. If you and your friends and family start using them, you'll always have a few on hand, since you'll always be getting new ones with gifts.
You can use any square piece of fabric, even a scarf, a bright bandanna, a handkerchief or neckerchief. Imagine giving a small, special gift wrapped in one of those beautiful, embroidered hankies your grandmother used to carry in her purse. If you sew, you can hem your own with pieces of fabric. You can use just about any fabric - nylon, cotton, or even silk for a very special gift.
As you wrap your gifts for the holidays, think about using a furoshiki instead of disposable wrapping paper and ribbon, or some of each. Both are beautiful and a delight to the recipient, and both speak of your love and regard for the person, but a furoshiki keeps on giving.