Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 11/28/16. Wrapping paper contest submissions are displayed in the Chattanooga Times Free Press newsroom on Monday, November 27, 2016.
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Jay Greeson

After a Thanksgiving holiday filled with family and food — and more than enough in each category — Monday's return to work was a bit of a letdown for many people.

For me, the post-holiday funk was completely erased at the offices of the Times Free Press.

Yes, there's a multitude of malignant things around us, even another round of breaking news of an another nightmare shooting, this one at Ohio State.

But Monday at the TFP was the day the crew walked around and looked at the eclectic and inspired entries in the annual wrapping paper contest.

To set the picture, there are several glass-enclosed offices on the second floor of the Times Free Press where the newsroom employees work. The Life department and the careful hands of Beth Blansitt and Judy Spears tape contest entries to the inside of the glass. The result is equal parts inspiring and insightful.

There are the traditional patterns, the snowmen, the reindeer (with red noses and without), the Christmas trees, the snowflakes, you name it.

It's a glorious tradition of community connection that ranks right there with the Best of Preps coverage and banquet this paper offers.

I try every year to walk through the entries. Kevin, age 6, likes to use red, which makes sense at Christmas time. Taylor, age 8, likes green and a nice attempt at symmetry. LaDarius, age 7, with Christmas trees and stars.

So it gloriously goes, and here's a little knowledge of this great tradition, which was started by longtime, award-winning page designer Lin Parker.

"I spotted a similar contest in the Washington Post in the early 2000s and floated the idea to then-publisher Tom Griscom, who gave it a thumbs up," she told me Monday. "It's a wonderful way to involve young readers in the newspaper. Over the years, we expanded the contest by adding community partners."

Yes, it is. And it's even more than that.

It's about imagination and the magic of Christmas. It's about the joys of coloring — regardless of age, mind you — and the various interpretations of joy. It's a celebration of the season and the creativity of the young people around us.

And it's one that has grown through its history. Here's more from Parker:

"ArtsBuild helps us get the word out, assists with judging and securing items for prize packages. Chattanooga's Kids on the Block wanted to use the winning design as a wrapping paper option in its gift wrap booths at Hamilton Place. Our press runs an extra 1,000 copies for this purpose. Tom brought in the Creative Discovery Museum staff, who hang an exhibit of finalists' and winner's entries during the month of December at the museum. We also hold a Reader's Choice Award with online voting to give the community a chance to pick its favorite design."

There have been public and private school winners, as well as home-schooled winners. There have been winning submissions celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

Man, in a time of the most division in a generation, the wrapping paper contest is a tie that binds.

"It's one of those feel-good holiday projects that everyone loves," Parker said.


Contact Jay Greeson at or 423-757-6343.