According to mymerrychristmas.com the practice of gift giving has a long Christmas history, those gifts being presented in colorful paper and tied up in curls of ribbon is a relatively new practice. While Christmas cards began to be sent in the mid-nineteenth century it wasn’t until many years later that dressing up presents in Christmas finery caught on.
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.
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.
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.”