Hiding the surprise is a big part of gift giving and has been for years – even centuries. The use of wrapping paper is first documented in ancient China, where paper was invented in second century B.C. In the American Midwest, the innovations of brothers Rollie Hall and Joyce Clyde Hall, founders of Hallmark Cards, led to the development of modern decorative gift wrapping in the 20th century. At their stationery store, they ran out of the standard tissue paper wrap and began to use thick envelope lining. It was a hit, and wrapping paper was born in the United States.
According to Hallmark, Americans spend approximately $3.2 billion a year on wrapping paper, so gift presentation is clearly important, but there are myriad options. Gift wrap, gift bags, tissue, ribbons, etc. Gift wrap comes in prints, solids, stripes and everything in between. According to Doug Taylor of Caroling Retail Packaging, some current products are purple, glitter and European wrapping styles that include non-traditional colors such as black and reds that are more orangey or pink. Wrapping paper geared toward the recipient is always welcome; for example, sheet music for music lovers. Using decorative stamps on brown craft paper can make a perfect wrap. Placing a box inside a box inside a box is a classic way to build excitement.
Ribbons can range from four-inch wide satin to chiffon and grosgrain. Baling twine or rustic string provide a vintage touch. Adding natural elements such as greenery, twigs or pine cones is popular. So are jingle bells. Ornaments tied onto the package are decorative and become part of the gift. Handmade bows instead of stick-ons add panache; instructions can be found on the Internet. Flat ribbon is most appropriate for shipping as bows get crushed.
For gift tags, use pre-made bookmarks available at craft stores. They can be decorated in numerous ways: punching out wintry designs such as snowflakes; using buttons or fabric circles to represent ornaments ‘hanging’ from the top; hand-lettering a heartfelt message. Personalized key tags or key chains work well. Die-cut initials tied on with ribbon and printable gift tags are available.
Gift bags are relatively new to the scene and have quickly become the number one way people wrap gifts, according to Hallmark. They are like fruit cakes because they get passed around a lot. Reaching into one may not be quite the same as opening as a wrapped gift, but they are ecologically sound (reusable) and easy to work with. Ambitious wrappers can make their own gift bags out of wrapping paper or newspaper with instructions on the Internet. Burlap is an understated material to gather around items such as wine bottles, and tissue paper can be used in a similar manner for other odd-shaped items – all tied up with ribbon.
Children can wrap presents using yarn as ribbon for an easy-to-work-with substitute. Curling ribbon requires only a tutorial on sliding scissors along the ribbon to create the curl. Another simple, attractive option is cutting the fronts off old Christmas cards and taping them to the tops of packages. Tying small packages of candy or candy canes onto gifts is fun.
In-home wrapping stations can be created with containers to organize tags, ribbon, scissors, tape and gift bags. They work great for kids and teens or busy wrappers who need supplies at the ready. Gift wrap organizers can range from an inexpensive over-the-door hanging bag to a $500 dream station.
Fringe Benefit in Blacksburg is one local retailer who provides free year-round gift wrapping. Owner Nancy Willoughby says she increases the number of gift wrap choices around the holidays. She prefers traditional colors such as red and white and uses cloth ribbon with wire in it to shape pretty bows. Employees are trained in wrapping for quality and speed. Gift bags with colorful tissue are also an option. At Matt Hagan Outdoors, there is a group of employees who “make the cut” to wrap. Karri Whitt says their store’s mix of wrapping customers is about 50/50, with men appreciating having the chore done well and busy women liking the convenience.
For those who still aren’t inspired to wrap or are pressed for time, consider supporting the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program’s wrapping booth in the New River Valley Mall. With a long history of “wrapping for a reason,” the booth provides quality wrapping products and wrapping service for a reasonable fee, and all proceeds stay in our community to benefit the most needy among us. Some customers return year after year, counting on the booth to help them make the holiday season easier. Last year, one family dropped off more than 40 gifts. Christmas Eve finds the booth buzzing with activity for those last-minute shoppers who procrastinated and are oh-so-grateful for the service.
The aesthetics of a beautifully wrapped package and building anticipation for the surprise inside continue to make gift wrapping, in whatever form, a special art.
Text by Jennifer Poff Cooper | Photos by Silver Pebble Photography