13 Tips for Wrapping the Perfect Present From An Expert

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Growing up, Alton DuLaney received many beautifully-wrapped presents. “My dad was a great gift wrapper,” he tells Mental Floss. “He always made the holidays and birthdays really special.” Those wraps clearly stuck with DuLaney, who grew up to become creative director at Kate’s Paperie and, in 2008, took home the top prize in the Scotch Most Gifted Wrapper Contest (he wrapped, among other things, a baby grand piano).

These days, the artist is helping novices nail their gift wraps via tutorials on Craftsy.com. DuLaney’s motto? Put the present in presentation. “Gift giving should not be stressful,” he says. “It should be something fun. When you gift wrap something, it shows that you put some individual time and attention to make it something special. If you have fun with it, your gift recipient is probably going to have fun with it, too.”

1. PREP YOUR WORKSPACE …

A person wrapping presnts on a clean workspace.
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“Create your workspace before you create,” DuLaney advises. Because he prefers to stand, he makes a sturdy, waist-high table or countertop his base. Whatever you choose to work on, make sure the surface is clean. Ditto your hands: “You don’t want to get lotion or anything that might be on your hands onto the beautiful paper or ribbon,” DuLaney says.

2. … AND HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS ON HAND.

Wrapping paper and scissors.
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No workspace is complete without the proper tools. DuLaney always has a ruler and two pairs of scissors—one for paper and one for ribbon. “Sometimes your paper will have glitter or other things on it that will dull your scissors,” he says. “When you cut your ribbon, you want to have a very super-sharp pair of scissors to get a nice, clean cut.” To tell the difference, he ties a tiny bit of ribbon around the handle of the ribbon scissors.

DuLaney also has two kinds of Scotch tape at the ready: Double-sided for complicated areas, and gift wrap tape with a matte finish “so even when it’s on the outside of the paper, it virtually disappears—you don’t see it.” He also keeps embellishments on hand to decorate the outside of the gift (more on that in a bit). “I like to gather all of those things before I start, and that way, once the creative juices are flowing, you don’t have to stop and say, ‘Where are my scissors? Where’s my tape?’” he says.

3. USE A MEDIUM GRADE PAPER.

A close-up of rolls of wrapping paper.
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If your paper is too thin, it will tear easily, allowing package corners to poke through; too-thick paper, on the other hand, leads to a bulky wrap. DuLaney prefers a medium-grade paper with a bit of a metallic finish, which creates nice, sharp creases.

4. CONSIDER DOING A PRACTICE RUN.

A mother and daughter wrapping presents.
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“This is going to sound crazy, but I always tell people to practice,” DuLaney says. “At the end of the season, I’ll go buy gift wrap on sale, and [next year], I’ll practice my wrapping before I start wrapping.” DuLaney advises practicing with ribbon, too.

If he has a special paper—something hand-painted or hand-stamped—DuLaney will do a dry run with regular paper to see how it will work. “Then I’ll unwrap [the gift] and use that paper as a pattern, just like if you were working with a piece of fabric—you would use a paper pattern to make your fabric pattern,” he says.

5. CAREFULLY MEASURE YOUR PAPER.

A person measuring out wrapping paper.
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To get the most use from your roll, wrap packages with the longest side of the box facing the cut edge of the paper whenever possible. Then, before making your cut, pull the paper up over the sides of the box to measure: You want just enough paper on either side so they slightly overlap in the middle—meaning, each side will be a smidge longer than half the width of your box. “If [the package is] big, I’ll actually break out a ruler, to make sure I have more than half,” DuLaney says. He always errs on the side of too much paper—you can always trim later.

6. PLACE YOUR PACKAGE TOP DOWN—AND NEVER PUT TAPE ON IT.

A picture of a woman's hands wrapping a christmas present.
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When it’s finally time to wrap your gift, place it top down on the paper. Next, pull one edge of the paper just beyond the edge of your gift; fold it to hide the cut edge—the white part, which DuLaney calls “the meat” of the paper. Most people would tape that to the package, but DuLaney advises against that. “When you take that paper off, you want both the ribbon and the paper to just fall away and reveal what’s inside it,” he says. Instead, grab the other side of the paper and pull it under the side with the folded edge. Align the folded edge with the end of the package and tape.

Next, rotate the box to one of the open sides and fold the short sides down to create long flaps; repeat on the other side. “This keeps the package from sliding around inside the paper,” DuLaney says. Fold the flap closest to you downward; then, fold the one closest to your work surface toward you and tape. That way, “when you turn the gift over, and place the bow on top, the side flaps are going down, so you don’t see into the workings of the gift wrap.” Finally, using your finger and your thumb, crease the edges of your wrapped package. You can watch DuLaney walk Jimmy Kimmel through the process here.

7. IF YOU RUN OUT OF PAPER, MAKE IT LOOK LIKE YOU MEANT TO DO IT.

A present wrapped in a wide ribbon.
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If you mess up and don’t cut enough paper (or are at the end of your roll), it’s no big deal. There are solutions that make it look like that was part of your plan all along—like creating a belly band. “I cut a strip of paper, fold under each edge, and sometimes, I’ll pleat that into a tuxedo fold in the middle, and I’ll tape that to the other paper,” DuLaney says. When he does this, he wraps the gift top-side up. “I’ll have the gift right-side up and will construct the paper on top of the gift, so the belly band becomes the centerpiece.” Have a slice of exposed package on the ends? Use a wide ribbon or embellishments to disguise it.

8. WHEN WRAPPING CYLINDERS, PLEATING IS KEY.

Wrapped packages under the tree.
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There are two ways of dealing with a cylinder: What DuLaney calls the bon-bon method—“where you scrunch the paper on each end and tape the ribbon on it” so it looks like a candy—and pleating. Trust us when we say pleating is easier to do than it is to explain—check out this video for a tutorial.

9. ADD EMBELLISHMENTS.

A present wrapped in plain paper and twine with a twig as an embellishment.
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Once you’re finished wrapping, put the present in presentation by adding embellishments to the outside of the package. This could be as simple as a ribbon, but DuLaney often kicks it up a notch. “I like to give a little gift on the outside that’s a hint of what’s on the inside,” he says. “If I’m giving a book, I might embellish the gift with bookmarks; if I’m giving a journal, I might embellish with a couple of writing instruments on the outside.” Sometimes, his embellishments follow gift wrapping trends. “There are a lot of wood grain papers on the market this season,” he says. “You can wrap with that and embellish with a sprig of rosemary from your garden or a bough of holly from your holiday tree.”

10. EMBRACE UNUSUAL SHAPES.

A bike with tinsel on it.
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Wrapping boxes is easy, but what happens if what you need to wrap isn’t box-shaped? DuLaney has several methods for dealing with this. The first—and easiest—is to grab a gift bag. “When I do a gift bag, I gift wrap my gift bag,” he says. “I’ll add a ribbon or a bow around the handle, or I’ll replace the handle with a matching ribbon.” Other times, he might wrap something tangentially related to a gift to place under the tree before revealing the real deal. “If I’m giving someone a tennis racket, I’ll wrap a tennis ball, and when they open that, I’ll present them the racket with a bow on it,” he says.

Another method is to wrap your gift to look like exactly what it is. “Last year on Jimmy Kimmel, I wrapped a vacuum cleaner, and it looked exactly like a vacuum cleaner,” DuLaney says. “[The gift] is a gorgeous paper sculpture when you’re done, but of course there’s no mystery as to what’s inside it.”

If you prefer to camouflage a gift, prepare to get creative. “I’ve done a bicycle before where I wrapped it in all of this craft paper, created cardboard cutouts, and basically turned it into a deer with a scarf wrapped around its neck,” he says. “You’re so distracted by that—you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a reindeer!’—that you don’t even think bicycle until you’re inside it.”

Of course, you could buy a box to put your unusually-shaped gift in, but what’s the fun in that?

11. USE DULL SCISSORS TO CURL RIBBON ...

Two rolls of ribbon and a pair of scissors on a white background.
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When using curling ribbon, sharp scissors are not your friend. They won’t just tear the ribbon—they could cut your finger, too. Dull scissors are the way to go. “When the ribbon comes off the spool, the outside of the ribbon is the finished side,” he says. “The part that goes to the inside of the spool is where you want to put your scissor or your curling tool. I put the scissor under the ribbon, put pressure on it from above with my thumb, and pull. The trick is to only do it once.”

12. … BUT DON’T THINK CURLING RIBBON IS YOUR ONLY OPTION.

A close up of a person's hands tying a red ribbon around a present.
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Depending on what kind of look you’re going for, you might opt for a silk ribbon (to which you'd add angled or forked tails) over a curling ribbon. DuLaney likes to use a wire-edge ribbon, which can help those who aren’t used to tying perfect bows create prettier shapes. “The bow holds its shape really well,” he says. “You can hand-shape the tails that are coming off that bow, and they will hold that shape. A satin ribbon is really beautiful, but can be slippery, and curling ribbon has a limp finish to it, which can look sloppy in the end. With wire-edged ribbon, you can create the bow and then really shape it into something you love.”

13. DON’T CUT YOUR RIBBON OFF THE ROLL UNTIL YOUR BOW IS DONE.

A close up of spools of ribbon.
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iStock

Do you eyeball how much ribbon you think you’ll need, cut it off the spool, and hope for the best? Rookie mistake. When he’s tying a bow, DuLaney starts at the top of the gift and gives himself 12 inches of extra ribbon that stays attached to the spool. And, oh yeah, he does his criss-crossing and knotting of the ribbon on top of the gift. “People have a tendency to do that on the bottom of the gift, but then, when they’re done, there’s a bump under there,” he says. “Your gift rocks—it doesn’t sit flat.”

Here’s how DuLaney does it: “I hold the ribbon to the top of the gift with my thumb, wrap my ribbon around the bottom, and bring the ribbon back up to the top of the package, then criss-cross the top of the gift,” he says. “Then I wrap the ribbon lengthwise around the gift, around the bottom, back up to the top, and then I will do my first half knot with the ribbon. I will then tie the bow, and then—and only then—will I cut the ribbon from the spool.”

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Singers George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the band 'Wham!', performing on stage, July 1986
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By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Andrew Ridgeley (right) and George Michael (1963-2016) of Wham! performing on stage together in Sydney, Australia during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in the Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.

The Origins of 12 Christmas Traditions

Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images
Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images

From expecting Santa to fill our footwear with gifts to eating cake that looks like tree bark, the holidays are filled with traditions—some of which are downright odd when you stop and think about them. Where did they come from? Wonder no more. Here are the origins of 12 Christmas traditions.

1. Hanging Stockings

While there’s no official record of why we hang socks for Santa, one of the most plausible explanations is that it's a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning. Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters' dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father's feet after being thrown through a window.

Regardless of what started the tradition, people seem to have realized the need to use a decorative stocking in place of an actual sock pretty early on. In 1883, The New York Times wrote:

"In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings ... even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions."

2. Caroling

Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

3. Using Evergreens as Christmas Trees

Rows of Christmas trees at tree farm on cold winter morning
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Before Christianity was even conceived of, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British royal family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

4. The Colors Red and Green

As with many other old Christmas traditions, there’s no hard-and-fast event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas™. But there are theories—the green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

5. Ugly Christmas Sweaters

To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

6. Leaving Milk and Cookies for Santa

Closeup image of wish list and treats for Santa Claus on table next to burning fireplace
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When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

7. The A Christmas Story Marathon on TBS

If one of the highlights of your holiday is tuning in for 24 hours of watching Ralphie Parker nearly shoot his eye out, you’re not alone—over the course of the day, more than 50 million viewers flip to TBS. The marathon first aired on TNT in 1997, then switched to sister station TBS in 2004. This Christmas marks the 20th year for the annual movie marathon.

8. Yule Logs

Chocolate yule log cake with red currant on wooden background
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Throwing a yule log on the fire is another tradition that is said to predate Christianity. As part of winter solstice celebrations, Gaels and Celts burned logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to cleanse themselves of the past year and welcome the next one. They also believed the ashes would help protect against lightning strikes and evil spirits. The practice was scaled down over time, and eventually, it morphed into a more delicious tradition—cake! Parisian bakers really popularized the practice of creating yule log-shaped desserts during the 19th century, with various bakeries competing to see who could come up with the most elaborately decorated yule log.

If you prefer a wood yule log to one covered in frosting, but find yourself sans fireplace, you can always tune in to Yule Log TV.

9. Advent Calendars

Technically, Advent, a religious event that has been celebrated since the 4th century, is a four-week period that starts on the Sunday closest to the November 30 feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Traditionally, it marked the period to prepare for Christmas as well as the Second Coming. These days, it’s mostly used as a countdown to Christmas for the religious and the non-religious alike.

The modern commercialized advent calendar, which marks the passage of December days with little doors containing candy or small gifts, are believed to have been introduced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. He was inspired by a calendar that his mother made for him when he was a child that featured 24 colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard. Today, advent calendars contain everything from candy to LEGOs.

10. Eggnog

Eggnog in two glass cups
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It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that 'nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called posset, a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it for toasting.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird "nog" name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that nog was short for noggin, which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been associated with fertility and vitality since ancient times, when Celtic Druids saw it as such because it blossomed even during the most frigid winters; the association stuck over the centuries.

It’s easy to see how fertility and kissing can be linked, but no one is quite sure how smooching under the shrub (actually, it’s a parasitic plant) became a common Christmas pastime. We do know the tradition was popular with English servants in the 18th century, then quickly spread to those they served. The archaic custom once allowed men to steal a kiss from any woman standing beneath; if she refused, they were doomed with bad luck.

12. Christmas Cards

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

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