As we approach the festive gift-giving period, we began to wonder where exactly the custom of gift wrapping comes from and when it became popular practice here in Britain. We have already been surprised by the royal history behind the very first recorded seasonal greetings card here in Britain, so we thought what better way to reflect on the things we do today than look at our love for gift wrapping.
Today, we instinctively reach for some sort of wrapping paper when preparing gifts for our loved ones, whether it be purpose bought and printed with patterns, plain and simple like tissue paper, or repurposing an old gift bag. It feels wrong to give a gift without having put in the effort to wrap it, even though the paper is destined to be destroyed and discarded.
Gift wrapping is a practice that has been around for really rather a long time. It is thought that those who practised traditional folk religions during the period of the Three Kingdoms in China, from roughly 220 to 280 AD, wrapped items in fabric as a symbol of protection and good luck. In wrapping the items, the giver could bestow upon their recipient security and good fortune.
Christmas cards, as we researched in our blog mentioned above, began to be more widely sent in Europe during the nineteenth century. As printing technologies improved, the number of different cards that were available to purchase increased, just as their popularity. As their popularity increased, manufacturers began printing matching patterns onto tissue paper and by the early twentieth century, they were in wide circulation throughout the west.
As many of you will no doubt know, Jane mentions Christmas in several of her novels, from discussing the festivities it occasioned to merely acknowledging its passing. The custom of gift wrapping only really became popular in Britain during the Victorian period, although Jane does mention in Persuasion "some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper" as they sit "by a roaring Christmas fire". Victorian gift wrapping was luxury orientated and involved the use of lace, ribbon and heavily decorated paper.
The sort of gift wrap we usually think of today was only invented by chance. In 1917, there were two brothers from Kansas City who ran a stationery shop, Joyce and Rollie Hall. The story goes that they had run out of tissue paper after a particularly busy holiday season and had decided to use some paper they found in their supplies intended for lining envelopes to sell as wrapping. The brothers were surprised to see the paper sell so quickly and did the same thing again in 1918. Within two years, the brothers began printing their own paper and established the company Hallmark, selling their paper all over America.
Many of us today take a lot of pride in the wrapping of our gifts, not just in December but all year round. It is curious to think how the industry of Christmas wrapping paper has grown so large, with matching tags being another key development. We recently released our very own Jane Austen wrapping paper, featuring the patterns A Mr Darcy Christmas and 12 Days of Pride and Prejudice (we keep catching ourselves singing 'seven turns about the room' from the latter). We would love to see any of the gifts you may have wrapped in our paper, maybe you even framed some for a bit of festive wall art.!
You could even take one of the beautiful gifts from our Jane Austen Christmas Offers selection and wrap them in our paper for an all-out celebration, although you might find it hard to rip such beautiful wrapping!