Perhaps you’ve seen a gift wrapper work, a calm clerk who folds crisp paper around impossible shapes and binds them with striped string. Perfect, and caring, and warm. When they’re done, it looks like a gift.
There is another class of gift wrapper: the one who, in early November, finds a flat surface in the back room, shoves a menagerie of items into decorative baskets and boxes, and fumbles with scraps of ribbon until these collections of colorful objects look something like what one might call a gift.
I am this wrapper, and when I wrap a gift, I look like a cat tangled in a ball of yarn: confused and stuck, eyes wild and glowing, mouth slightly ajar. I find scraps of raffia in my apron for weeks to come. I develop a deep loathing for raffia.
Raffia is a dried-out, shredded-up palm frond that looks like a softer, wispier version of hay. You can wrap it around a jar full of anything, and it will somehow look perfectly rustic.
It has become so popular among crafters that you can now find imitation raffia—paper, rayon, plastic—in any color you wish. I have three spools: fluorescent green, red orange, and brassy “pearlized” (plastic).
It is this versatile ribbon that looped itself around my every other finger and pulled me into that state of mania that descends upon the retail workforce every November. It’s the state in which you grin and say “hello” to everyone you see, every time you see them. The state in which you forget to eat lunch, but you remember to eat the free candy in the break room, then you suffer dearly. The state in which you travel through time more quickly, and your short term memory all but disappears. The holiday spirit.
Visitors to my wrapping lair will find me staring at the tense intersection of two delicate strings of raffia. I pull one end, and one of two things happens: either I tighten a knot and collapse under a wave of relief, or I undo the taut interface of string, and watch the ribbon fall off the box in the same way my cardigan slumps into a wrinkled mass when I shrug it onto my couch at home and sigh.
The more strings of raffia I use, the fluffier it looks. I fold it over itself, and loop it around my fingers. This confuses my shoe-tying instinct, and I have to relearn the narrative of the shoelace bunny. I relearn it with extra string tied around my fingers—which is like tying my shoes in another dimension, while drunk.
A coworker sees me, grins, and asks me how it’s going. “Remember how I said I like wrapping presents?” I say, and I grimace. She takes the grimace as a smile, as retail workers have trained our grimaces to look like smiles. She smiles back at me, says “girly girl.” She hadn’t heard me swearing at the thing.
I bring the boxes to the shelf. I stand them up like they’re a choir. I re-fluff the raffia.
Boxes disappear over the next two months. Away they go, wrapped by one stranger and given to another. Away they go to a dinner party where you don’t know anyone, but you want to impress them—because you live in a big cold city and you need friends to keep you warm.
In January, I will unwrap the remaining boxes. I will place each item back on the shelf, and I will throw away a festive wad of raffia. (Abi Knopp)