December 21st: It’s a Wrap
Being Mr Christmas, most people assume that my preparations for the big day run like clockwork. I can tell you they don’t. I have been known to be wrapping presents at midnight on Christmas Eve in a mad rush to beat Father Christmas. He has a choice of four chimneys at The Watch House so he could appear almost anywhere in my house, frowning at my tardiness. As I write, there’s a distinct possibility that I might be in the same position again this year, locked in a room until the last stocking-filler is deftly disguised.
On the whole I enjoy wrapping gifts, especially if I have all the right tools to hand. Sharp scissors and a large, flat cutting surface are essential. (I believe some homes in the USA even having gift wrapping rooms: a trifle excessive, but I suppose once you’ve upgraded to a walk-in wardrobe and home cinema, a gift wrapping room is a natural progression.) I always use double-sided sticky tape for neatness – the narrow sort if I can find it – and I like to seek out coordinating ribbons and tags. I tend to buy ribbon by the metre in my local haberdashers as it’s significantly cheaper than buying reels that are specifically sold for Christmas. I take pride in wrapping a gift, even if the recipient doesn’t show a great deal of interest in the effort I’ve made. It’s been proven that wrapping a gift nicely has a positive effect on how it’s regarded by the recipient.
The practice of wrapping gifts goes back thousands of years to China, Japan and Korea. The Japanese furoshiki, a reusable wrapping cloth, is still in use today, and may yet experience a resurgence in popularity as we become more conscious of how much paper we throw away. The Japanese are masters of wrapping and packaging, so much so that the way a gift is presented becomes almost as important as the gift itself.
The origins of printed paper as a wrapping material are somewhat blurred until the early 20th Century. Upper echelons of Victorian society used elaborately decorated papers tied with ribbon or lace to conceal presents, fashion later favouring lighter tissue in shades of green, red and white. Then, in 1917, a pair of brothers running a stationery store in Kansas City, Missouri, ran out of their standard tissue paper. Not wishing to disappoint their customers they found among their supplies a stack of ‘fancy French paper‘ which was typically used to line envelopes. They put the paper in a showcase, setting its price at $0.10 a sheet. It sold out immediately.
The following year the brothers bought more French lining papers. Once again the sheets were a hit with customers, so in 1919 they started producing and selling their own printed paper designed specially for wrapping ‘Holiday’ gifts. The brothers were called Joyce and Rollie Hall, and we all know the brand they went on to create – Hallmark.
Now an established item on our Christmas shopping list, gift wrap has reached a cross-roads. We throw away 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each Christmas in the UK, enough to stretch nine times around the world. Whilst much of it could technically be recycled, the sellotape and ribbons we attach to it make it hard to process. Wrap with metallic foils and flitter (glitter) is harder still to recycle, so much so that some local authorities won’t touch it. It may not be long before we’re reappraising the Japanese furoshiki and the Korean bojagi
There are worse threats to our environment than used wrapping paper, but we can all do our bit by minimising how much we use, tearing off the areas that have been covered in sellotape before recycling and even reusing any areas that are not too creased. I’ve been known to iron old wrapping paper and store it away in a drawer for the following year, along with any gift bags I receive. Very little gets wasted at The Watch House. TFG