BlogHolidays December 29, 2023

What A Wonderful Custom: Gift Giving!

What A Wonderful Custom: Gift Giving! 

Gift wrapping is the act of enclosing a gift in some sort of material. Wrapping paper is a kind of paper designed for gift wrapping. An alternative to gift wrapping is using a gift box or bag. A wrapped or boxed gift may be held closed with ribbon and topped with a decorative bow (an ornamental knot made of ribbon).

Oh, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and however you celebrate winter holidays, you are almost guaranteed to use paper. Paper products and natural wood chemicals like cellulose are used everywhere, from holiday cards to the luggage you use when visiting family. 

But how did our society transition from using paper for utilitarian purposes like writing literature and recording history to uses like wrapping gifts? To understand this, we have to first understand what papermaking is. In essence, it’s the formation of a matted sheet that’s usually derived from the cellulose fibers of plant and vegetable cell walls.

The use of wrapping paper is first documented in ancient China, where paper was invented in 2nd century BC. In the Southern Song dynasty, monetary gifts were wrapped with paper, forming an envelope known as a chih pao. The wrapped gifts were distributed by the Chinese court to government officials.  In the Chinese text Thien Kung Khai Wu, Sung Ying-Hsing states that the coarsest wrapping paper is manufactured with rice straws and bamboo fiber.

Although the Hall brothers Rollie and Joyce Hall, founders of Hallmark Cards, did not invent gift wrapping, their innovations led to the development of modern gift wrapping. They helped to popularize the idea of decorative gift wrapping in the 20th century, and according to Joyce Hall, “the decorative gift-wrapping business was born the day Rollie placed those French envelope linings on top of that showcase.”

Asian cultures

In Chinese culture, red wrapping denotes luck because it is such a vibrant and strong color. It is seen as a symbol of happiness and good health.

In Japanese culture, wrapping paper and boxes are common. However, the traditional cloth wrapping called furoshiki is increasing in popularity, particularly as an ecologically friendly alternative to wrapping paper.

In Korean culture, bojagi are sometimes used for gift wrapping. A yedanbo is a ceremonial gift bojagi used to wrap wedding gifts from the bride’s family to the members of the groom’s.

In Vietnamese culture, gift wrapping is an integral part of the gift-giving tradition. Vietnamese people often use elegant and colorful gift boxes to create visual appeal. The colors red and gold are particularly favored, as they symbolize luck and joy. Vietnamese people also pay special attention to the messages and wishes on the gifts, expressing care and affection. Additionally, there is a trend towards using environmentally friendly materials such as recycled paper and sustainable ribbons for gift wrapping.

Western cultures

In Western culture, gifts are often wrapped in wrapping paper and accompanied by a gift note which may note the occasion, the receiver’s name and the giver’s name.

Prior to the introduction of tissue paper, Upper-class Victorians in the west commonly used decorated and colored thick paper to cover their gifts. Modern patterned wrapping paper was introduced to the American market by the Hall Brothers in 1917. The Kansas City stationery store had run out of traditional white, red, and green monocolor tissue papers, and started selling colorful envelope liners from France. Proving popular, the company promoted the new designs in the subsequent decades, adding ribbons in the 1930s, and Hallmark remains one of the largest American producers of gift wrap. Hallmark records that gift wrap accounts for $3.2 billion annually in retail sales in the U.S.

A Mistake That Created an Industry

Before the 20th century, wrapping gifts was largely an upper-class tradition of using elaborately decorated paper, lace and ribbons. At the turn of the century, the most widespread gifting practice was tissue paper, mainly colored red, green or white. But in 1917, the paper industry was forever changed — again.

Business was booming for two brothers running a stationery store in Kansas City, Missouri. J.C. and Rollie Hall were helping customers when they realized they had run out of the standard tissue paper needed for the busy holiday season. It wasn’t like today when you can simply get one-day delivery on Amazon goods. They needed a solution, and fast.

Rollie found leftover “fancy French paper” not meant for wrapping gifts, but for lining envelopes. As a last-second effort to keep business steady, they put that paper out on display for 10 cents a sheet. It sold out in minutes. 

The Hall brothers tested their luck in 1918, and the paper sold out again just as fast. The following year, they decided to focus their efforts on creating their own version of the “fancy French paper,” and thus the wrapping paper industry was born. 

Over time, using wrapping paper became almost an expectation in western cultures, creating a $16.2 billion industry in 2019. Now you can buy custom wrapping paper. Ironically, you can even buy a print that looks like wood. 

Oh, and the Hall brothers? They named their store Hallmark. 

How did they wrap presents before tape?

However, because tape had not yet been invented, gift coverings were held together using string, ribbon, or sealing wax. At some point someone came up with sticky circles that were sold in packets and could be affixed to hold two edges of paper together.

Is it rude to not wrap a gift?

In this day and age, not so much. But it does give the impression that very little time or care was put into the gift. It can also be saying that the gift is obligatory and given out of necessity rather than care or love.

What cultures don t accept gifts?

In China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, it is customary to express modesty and refuse the gift up to three times. Be ready to insist and show how happy it makes you give it to them, or say what precisely they did to deserve it.