The History Of Gift Wrapping
Gift Giving is a universal custom with a long history. Whenever you have a gift to give, you are likely to wrap it. Some people go to great lengths with this, coming up with original, home made wrapping ideas to show the present off. In fact, sometimes wrappings are so beautiful and elaborate that we are reluctant to open them as it will ruin the look! Other people are far less elaborate, using simple paper or even a gift bag. However, have you ever wondered where the tradition of wrapping gifts comes from?
The Chinese Link
You may not be surprised to hear that the first time gifts were wrapped was in ancient China. They were much further forward with developments such as paper and ink than many other cultures and the concept of giving gifts has always been a major part of their traditions.
Gifts have been wrapped since the invention of paper in 105 A.D. in China. The paper-making process was kept a secret by the Chinese for centuries, but by 800 A.D. the process was known in Egypt. The secret spread to Europe, where the first paper mill was started in 1085.
The British Link
The British have always been fond of paper, particularly wallpaper. In the Victorian era, making a show of wealth was very important, and this was done by giving elaborate and expensive gifts wrapped in wallpaper.
Upper-class Victorians regularly used elaborately decorated paper — along with ribbons and lace — to conceal gifts. In the early 20th century, thick, unwieldy paper gave way to tissue (often colored in red, green, and white) that would similarly work to conceal offerings until they were opened.
This was done mainly because wallpaper was hard to use as wrapping. Furthermore, it would easily tear and break, thereby revealing the concealed gift inside. This was a disaster for the upper classes, because it would reveal to other guests what their gifts was, allowing them to make estimations about the cost of the present itself. For a long time, therefore, even the upper class Victorians moved on to brown paper to wrap their gifts, as it would, if nothing else, at least keep the gift hidden until the receiver would open it.
The American Link
Our own country actually played one of the biggest roles in gift wrapping the way we know it today. This happened in 1917, when gift wrapping paper as we know it today was invented.
According to the Hallmark site, Joyce Clyde Hall and his brother, Rollie, invented modern gift-wrap in their Kansas City, MO, store. When they ran out of their solid-colored gift dressing during the peak of the Christmas season, they began substituting the thicker French envelope liners for wrapping presents. It sold so well they began printing their own. Previous to this, they sold white, red and green tissue and one holly pattern for gift-wrapping.
Another major development came some 20 years later, when Scotch tape was invented. This suddenly made it much easier to wrap gifts, that had previously been held together using rope, twine, strings and sealing wax.
Naturally, we wouldn’t even be thinking about gift wrapping paper if it wasn’t for the fact that we are obsessed with giving gifts. This practice has existed in ancient China for thousands of years and it is unclear where its origins came from. However, in our own culture, it seems that the practice of giving gifts stems from the Roman era in Europe.
Early years of gift giving date back to the Romans. Gifts were given to one another around pagan celebrations, such as the Winter Solstice and Roman New Year. Years later, gift giving became associated to the celebration of Christmas and connection to the Wise Men who brought gift to Jesus at his birth.
Interestingly, a lot of psychological research has been done in why we wrap gifts. The question psychologists have asked themselves is whether people prefer to receive a gift if it is wrapped or not. Interestingly, the research suggests that people have a more positive attitude towards a gift they are about to receive if it has been wrapped.
Gift wrapping, through repeated pairing with joyous events in people’s lives, has utility in cuing [sic] a happy mood which, in turn, positively biases attitudes,” wrote Dr Howard. “These results are consistent with an encoding specificity view of mood retrieval and a mood maintenance explanation of attitude formation.” [...] “The encoding specificity view was supported by finding stronger effects of gift wrapping on mood retrieval in conditions arguably present when the relation between gift wrapping and happy mood was established in the lives of subjects, such as the receipt of a personal gift [and] the receipt of a gift wrapped in traditional gift-wrapping paper.
Besides this, it seems that people enjoy wrapping as well. Most of us have no idea of the existence of the study by Dr Howard (as well as others that proved the same point), yet we instinctively wrap our gifts. We say it is because we enjoy the look of surprise on people’s faces when they open it. The visual element is actually very important. Wrapped gifts can be left somewhere as a tantalizing clue of what is inside. With Christmas, for instance, it allows gifts to be placed under a tree without everybody immediately knowing what they will get. Last but not least, the old Victorian idea still lingers in our psyches as well. We don’t want the rest of the world to see what we are giving other people, because it will show others what we can and can’t afford. This is why it is becoming more and more customary for a gift table to be presented where people leave their – wrapped – presents, only for the receiver to open these presents after all the guests have left. The only exception to this is Christmas, because in this case, the presents were bought not by a giver, but rather they were created by Santa Clause. It is amusing to see how much history, culture and psychology goes into something as simple as wrapping a gift.
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