I chopped down the tree. I scaled the ladder, balancing precariously on one foot so those innermost, hard to reach branches would sparkle with light. I endured the physical ardors of hauling boxes of decorations from the basement, knowing full well that my creaky back has less than a month to recover before I perform the same task in reverse.
I have accomplished all of these manly jobs that come with the blessed holiday celebrating the birth of our Lord. All that's left is the most difficult task for a man, any man:
Each year I gamely try to make Christmas gifts look like, well, actual "Christmas" gifts and each year I fail miserably. Holiday wrapping is not an acquired skill; from birth you either have it or you don't.
And I know of very few men who have it, judging from a conversation I had with some of my guy friends on a recent Saturday night.
"Why bother? My wife knows what she's getting anyway. Heck, she picked most of it out."
"I put everything in those gift bags. If you tape the handles together, then the gift still has to be opened, more or less."
"You can cram some colored tissue paper in the bags as well. That's what I do."
"Whoa, you're scaring me Paul."
"Don't the Girl Scouts wrap gifts?"
Ah, the Girl Scouts, that time-and sanity-saving organization of giggling junior high students who descend on the local mall and are a godsend for every man. Hand them any shaped gift, even an umbrella in the open position and check the sports scores on your smart phone while a scissors-wielding Kristy expertly cuts paper. She'll pass the gift to a tape-dispensing Grace, who seals it and slides it down to future- interior-decorator Chloe, who makes it look even more impressive by taking multiple ribbons and twisting them together to form one striking piece of festive trimming. At the end of the table sits another Scout (or quite often a Scout leader) who announces that gift wrapping is free, but "donations are appreciated."
For this service, I would gladly turn over the deed to my house.
Unfortunately, I have made three trips to my local mall since Thanksgiving and cannot find the Girl Scouts, or any type of gift-wrapping service anywhere. What's a man to do?
"You don't need to wrap my gifts,' my wife said. "And I'll wrap all the gifts for the kids."
I knew full well not to accept her offer as I have been the victim of numerous 2 a.m. Christmas Day glares as she struggles to seal the rest of the gifts while I lounge in a chair, gazing at the tree, sipping a holiday cordial and saying, "The kids are going to be up in four hours. You almost done?"
"Nope. This year I'm going to help," I said.
"Fine," she replied way too quickly. "Start with this one. It's just a box. Shouldn't be too tough."
I cut a semi-straight strip from the roll and joined each side to the box's middle with a single piece of tape. So far, so good. But here's where things always deteriorate. While attempting to fold half of one end into a nice triangular shape, the paper buckled in the middle. I used more tape to rectify that problem but the crease I had assembled on the end had disappeared. Furthermore, beneath the paper, the box was sliding away from me.
Eventually I brought both sides up and over the box's sides and sealed them with far too much tape. "There!" I proclaimed, even though a mild gust of wind would have opened the package.
My wife looked at my handiwork, sighed heavily and rewrapped the box in seconds. "It's really not that difficult," she said.
Neither is sipping a cordial in an easy chair.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad," available at http://amzn.to/schwem. Visit Greg on the web at http://www.gregschwem.com.)