'Tis the season to think outside the empty box

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.


– Andy Rooney


The meaning of Christmas is love. The mystery of Christ­mas is anticipation.

The motto of Christmas is “Save the boxes.”

Here are some season’s reasons.

You save the boxes because they might have instructions, or tiny parts.

Or both.

Save the boxes because you might have to take the gift back and if you at least take it with the box, it looks like you’re representing an honest effort at getting a refund or replacement.

Save the boxes because they’re useful.

They can be used to pack other gifts, particularly if you want to have some fun.

Early in my matrimony, I thought it cute to package gift socks or kitchen utensils in a box I got from an expensive jewelry store. (For some reason, I did this only once.)

Save the boxes because they are useful. I almost always get a shirt for Christ­­­mas, and I save the shirt boxes to put all my Christ­mas cards in.

Then, I log the return addresses, look for any cool postage stamps, label the box with the year and put it in the top of the guest room closet.

Finally, save the boxes because they contain a secret of Christmas, and that is imagination.

What child hasn’t spent many a December day hugging and hefting a brightly wrapped box from beneath the tree trying to figure out what it is?

What, we wondered, would fit within the geometric confines of this container? Can we read any clues through the thinner parts of wrapping paper?

Imagination, however, has other advantages, particularly when it comes to boxes.

I know. One year when I was about 10, a neighbor and I were looking for some post-Christmas fun when we came upon a bunch of flattened cardboard boxes stacked near an overflowing garbage can at the foot of the front yard hill.

I’m not sure whose idea it was, but before you could sing the first chorus to Sleigh Ride, we had both selected cardboard strips, dashed to the top of the hill and were hurtling down the thick, dry grass of a Georgia December as fast as our 10-year-old New England counterparts could on any snowy hillside.

We did this for days, joined by others in the neighborhood and eventually rubbing most of the grass off every decent front-yard slope on the block.

You know, I don’t remember what Santa brought me that year, or what was in the presents I opened Christ­mas morning.

But I remember those boxes, and I remember pretending they were sleds, and I remember how much fun I had.

The magic of Christmas is memory. You can save those, too.