Monday, December 13, 2010

Back to the Other Writer...

Well, it’s a funny old world. I’m back to wearing the hat that wants to know how and why things came to be… this week’s (over) focus is wrapping paper. Now, in addition to knowing that I dislike the word hate and I hate epilogues, you will now know that I strongly dislike wrapping paper!

I cannot remember a birthday, anniversary, holiday, or a just “cause I feel like it” gift that I’ve given where I’ve rushed home and thought, “Yeah! Now I get to wrap it and fluff it up with all kinds of goo-gaws!” I tried to convince myself one year that it was all about the bow. At the time I had a lovely friend who knew how to tie beautiful bows. She’d taken a class and could produce works of art. Her bows looked like Chihuly Sculptures ( She spent the better part of a weekend trying to show me how. This was about sixteen years ago and I use the bows she tied for me out of beautiful red velvet ribbon every winter holiday in some fashion. They are beautiful, but really I place them about as a connection to my past and my friendship with her.

It has nothing to do with ineptness! My wrapping technique was taught to me by my father, who at the time was in the Army and applied ‘spit and polish’ to all things. It has nothing to do with frugality. I love wrapping paper and buy it by the mile. It has nothing to do with it being destroyed within moments of being handed to someone. I actually enjoy watching people open gifts. Is it with caution and care, gently easing tape up and carefully unfurling the item; or is it just a wild abandoned ravaging?

Of course there is nothing like the holidays to really make me want to go running wild and screaming through the woods.

Here is my fantasy. After weeks of calmly walking the aisles and shuttling to and from the shops, I separate the gifts into stacks of his, hers, his, theirs, and ours. I then prepare the present wrapping table with tape, scissors, festive paper and bags, bows, holly sprigs, candy canes, and other assorted accoutrement. I turn on the Christmas music, and spend the day wrapping. By the time the children come home from school I’m finished, everything is carefully hidden and all is well. As a result of my incredibly organized shopping and wrapping days, my husband and I have a lovely Christmas Eve after we’ve chased the kids to bed. We cozy up on the couch, in front of the fire, sipping a favorite beverage while Bing croons in the background. After an hour or two, we put our gifts under the tree, and go to bed so that Santa can make his deliveries. Christmas morning everyone is dazzled with the bejeweled gifts, thrilled with the package contents.

Here is what really happens. My children make their requests and I commence to shopping two weeks before Christmas (with little kids this is a must since opinions and wants change over nights). I rush from this store to that, trying to find what I need. It gets shuttled into the house and hidden wherever there is an empty space high off the floor. This means my husband’s clothes in our closet get covered in bags and boxes. Then I do the rest of life. This means that on Christmas Eve, after chasing the kids to bed, I am locked in the study with piles of presents, miles of wrapping paper, searching for the tape and scissors that have been lost in the bin with the self-adhesive bows and gift bags. I wrap, wrap, wrap, until my fingers bleed, all the while checking the clock hoping to finish in time for the previously mentioned fantasy. Eventually, I come staggering out of the study, with an aching back and knees (because I have of course wrapped all the presents on the floor). It is too late for fires, cocktails, and romance. It is all about checking to see if the kids are asleep and can the gifts get delivered and did we remember to put out the milk and cookies. (Just to be clear, he has always been elsewhere assembling the gifts that need to be ready Christmas morning. He doesn’t bail on me and leave me all alone. He is in his own Christmas Eve nightmare!) Christmas morning is still a great time!

My husband finally sat me down two days before Christmas last year and helped me get the gifts wrapped. We had the lovely Christmas Eve that I’ve always dreamed of. (We made a promise to each other two years ago that any gifts requiring assembly would have to wait until the kids were absolutely desperate!)

Last year, in a moment of zealousness, I purchased Christmas fabric so that over the course of the year I could sew Christmas bags that would be reusable. I still have the fabric. I love to sew, but when it comes to wrapping, I have a block/barrier/hurdle/thing, that I just cannot overcome. Truly, I have to say I just don’t see the point. I say we throw caution to the wind and hand someone a gift and leave the guessing out of it.

Why do we do this? I dreamt up stories… someone needed to discreetly gift a married lover with a bauble? Someone had a utilitarian offering and wanted to fancy it up? Someone loved a piece of fabric and wrapped up their favorite rock? Who knows? So, I went looking.

Here’s what I found out on

The tradition of gift giving became associated with Christmas because of the offerings of the Three Wise Men, though early on the Church discouraged the practice of gift giving because of its pagan associations. But by the Middle Ages the tradition had become so popular that it became a mainstay of the holiday season.

Early on gifts were wrapped in simple tissue paper or more sturdy brown paper. In the nineteenth century, gifts were sometimes presented in decorated cornucopias or paper baskets. The technology did not exist to mass produce a decorated, foldable, paper until the 1890's, when developments in printing presses allowed colored ink to be printed fluidly on stiffer papers. A rotary system developed that allowed the printed paper to be rolled onto cardboard rolls or cut into smaller sheets. The printed gift wrap industry took off at the turn of the century. Hy-Sill Manufacturing Inc., founded by Eli Hyman and Morris Silverman, became the first American gift wrap company in 1903. Wrapping paper's biggest name, Hallmark, stumbled upon the gift wrap market by accident. In 1917, the Hall Brothers's typical offering of green, red, and white tissue paper had sold out in their Kansas City, Missouri store a few days before Christmas. The resourceful owner, Rollie Hall, had sheets of decorative envelope liners shipped over from a manufacturing plant. He placed these large patterned sheets on top of a showcase and sold them for 10 cents each. The decorative paper quickly sold out. The next year, the sheets sold for three for 25 cents, and again they quickly disappeared. The brothers began printing their own Christmas wrapping paper, and soon gift wrap sales rivaled their greeting card department.

Early gift wrappers had to be especially dexterous; scotch tape wasn't invented until 1930! And it wasn't until 1932 that the rolls of adhesive tape were sold in dispensers with cutter blades. Before then packages were tied up with string and sealing wax. In the 20's and 30's small sticky circles were sold in packets along with folded papers that allowed the wrapper to attach the paper. During this time also, small gift tags and a type of sticky decorative ribbon were developed, often included in packets of matching wrapping paper.

Over the years the look of wrapping paper changed as well. The first wrapping paper was decorated in the ornate style of the Victorian era, similar to the Christmas greeting cards that had become all the rage. Gilded flourishes of cherubs, birds, and flowers draped across sheets of popular wrapping papers. In the 30's and 40's, patterns became more stylized due to the popularity of Art Deco. Decorations moved away from nature to symbols we commonly associate with Christmas today. Popular patterns included ice skaters, snowflakes, Christmas trees, and candles. While the symbols remained the same, the artwork became more realistic again in the 50's and 60's. By the 70's and 80's, Madison Avenue had realized the potential of wrapping paper and hence, wrapping paper often had movie or TV show tie-ins, with designs incorporating popular movie or cartoon characters.

Gift wrap was saved from the rationing that many other products were subject to during World War II. The War Office believed that gift wrap and other Christmas traditions contributed to raising morale amongst citizens, and also believed that it encouraged people to send packages to soldiers far from home. Some gift wrap manufacturers turned to weapon and other wartime production, but the ones that remained making paper saw business boom. Sales actually increased by more than twenty percent during the war!

Innovations with gift wrap have continued. The 1980's introduced decorative plastic and paper gift bags, though these "new" bags weren't as new as some people thought. The Victorians had often given their gifts in decorated bags. The introduction of stick-on bows and cascade ribbons in the 80's and 90's further helped less than perfect gift wrappers. Nowadays one can wrap a gift without even using paper, by going on-line and sending an e-card wrapped in "virtual paper."

The two most interesting points that I learned were, there were envelope liners and that gift wrap wasn’t rationed during WWII. I have complete and utter respect for Eli, Morris and the Brothers Hall for their innovative spirit and desire to earn a few dollars. But, did they ever stop to think of the pressure they were putting on the rest of us?

I know many other countries have other traditions; some place gifts in shoes, some in pillow cases, or baskets. I like these ideas. The problem is, as adults we didn’t all get together and say, “This is what we are going to do!” Do gifts appear on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Do you give one gift from yourselves and rely upon Santa for the rest? Does Santa only bring one gift and rely upon you for the rest? Stockings… well, there is another subject. A little continuity might be a good idea. I say we get together, collaborate and come up with a list of suggestions for the next generation and make things a little more standard.

If you haven’t seen it, the epitome of gift wrapping ridiculousness can be seen in the movie, Love Actually. The store clerk places the gift in a box, inside a cellophane bag, adds potpourri, then places it inside a box, then places sprigs of holly, cinnamon sticks, and evergreen boughs inside, before sealing it all shut. All done with great flourish and enthusiasm on the clerks part (played by Rowan Atkins (Mr. Bean)) and painfully tolerated by the customer (Alan Rickman).

My husband’s mother is a creative genius when it comes to gift giving. She would switch it up. One year nothing was wrapped. The next year one person got a certain paper, the next year she wrapped presents without tags and then the opener had to guess whose present it was! I think this is fabulous, it would certainly keep people engaged and entertained. This I can appreciate and get involved in.

For those of you who love to wrap (and I know a few of you do), I commend you! Your gifts are festive and fun. I have reconstructed some of these boxes and use them as props under my tree at Christmas. Just after the kids got used to the idea that they were empty, we used them a few years ago to put presents in and the children were delighted. So, thank you.

So, will I have learned my lesson and get my wrapping done before Christmas Eve? I certainly hope so! I still haven’t looked to see if I have any paper. I am pleased to say that I am 90% done with gift shopping. I have ten days to finish shopping and get it all wrapped. My motivation is my beau! I do love snuggling up in front of a crackling fire with nothing but the sound of carols ringing throughout the house.

Thanks for reading and Happiest of Holidays!