Why Do We Wrap Gifts?

by Cie McCullough Buschle on December 20, 2010

in Arts and Culture

Why Do We Wrap Gifts?The idea of wrapping presents has been around since the time that paper was invented, during the 2nd Century BCE when the Chinese used it both for wrapping and padding. The Chinese were very secretive about the process of making paper, and considered it sacred. Sharing the methods of making paper might result in severe punishment, sometimes death.

Now jump forward 2000 years to Christmas in the Victorian Era, and everyone is giving presents but only the well-to-do are wrapping them.

Wrapping presents in expensive paper is too much for the lower class to bare, and is considered only a privilege for the wealthy. The paper was printed with elaborate pictures and decorations, and topped with all sorts of ribbons and laces. The printing press was advanced enough that, in a relatively short time, large amounts of durable paper could be produced. The paper was very sturdy, but this made it difficult to bend and wrap boxes with; but the end result was beautiful.

After the turn of the 20th century, gift wrapping was extremely popular everywhere in the US. Plain tissue paper in the colors of red, green and white was used the most. But this paper was too flimsy, and sometimes the colors would bleed. Wrapping paper was very often torn or ripped, all by accident, well before the gift was received.

Sheets of Wrapping Paper

In 1917 there was a happy accident in the Hall Brother’s store. They sold out of tissue paper too early in the holiday season, and started using decorative envelope liners imported from France. These liners were made of elaborate paper, and at ten cents a sheet were quickly snapped up by Christmas shoppers. The next year the Hall brothers displayed the same style of wrapping paper at three sheets for twenty-five cents. This was the start of a very successful business plan which they followed in the years to come. Today Hallmark is the industry leader in wrapping paper sales.

Now gifts for all occasions are wrapped not only with beautiful paper but self-adhesive bows, matching gift cards, and beautiful ribbons.

The wrapping paper business makes millions of dollars with most of their sales occurring in late November or the entire month of December. Nothing is prettier that a pile of beautifully wrapped boxes underneath a Christmas tree.

Why Do We Wrap Gifts?

| Cie McCullough Buschle lives with her dog Einstein and a cat named Burton Guster. She is a lifelong traveler and enjoys researching history through holidays, toys, and everyday objects. Cie is a sculptor and co-owns The Creative Chameleon, a place where kids and adults can create, paint, celebrate, and just have a lot of fun. Sometimes you can find her time traveling back to the Middle Ages as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Linda December 20, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I think I wrap presents more for me than the receiver. My absolute favorite part of gift giving is the surprise and sheer delight on the person’s face when they rip that paper off and see the booty inside!
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Sandra Foyt December 21, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I used to collect my favorite wrapping papers. Later, I used it to wrap new gifts, but the most fabulous paper I reserved for covering my journal. Now, I have a stack of gorgeous journals that started out as plain old steno pads.

Cie December 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I love the look of matching presents under the tree – all coordinated wrapping, ribbons and bows. But I am certainly glad the Hall brothers took that envelope liner and started selling it. I hate the thought of trying to make a present look clean and neat with big bulky wallpaper type wrappings!
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Loretta McCullough December 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I loved the article about wrapping presents. It was very informative and interesting. It is also fun, when the children are young, to make home-made designs on plain wrapping paper. Christmas trees sprinkled with glitter, wreaths, snow scenes, etc..

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