Saturday, December 2, 2023

The History of Gift Wrapping Paper

Amber Lemus Christian Author

Photo by cottonbro studio
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, Everyone! I'm so excited that the season is finally here. I've got a toddler and another one on the way, so the holiday season is so much fun, and I feel like a kid myself waiting for Christmas to arrive. We go ALL OUT for Christmas. I wish I could show you my house. But this being only the second of December, not all of my decorations are up yet. It's a process.

One of the things I take very seriously during the holidays is gift wrapping. I personally feel that a gift is more highly valued and appreciated when it is wrapped like intended for the king of England. Every year I pick a theme and wrap all my gifts alike so that everyone can tell which ones are from me. This obsession with gift wrapping led me to today's history tidbit: the history of wrapping paper.

Gift giving is an important element of society for many reasons. We give gifts to show love and favor, to apologize, to show appreciation, as part of business and political affairs, and to congratulate someone for an important milestone in their lives. It didn't take long for people to decide that the surprise element of the gift made it even better, thus the tradition of gift wrapping began.

It's hard for us to imagine Christmas presents without their elaborate paper veil, but at first, gifts would have been wrapped in cloth, leather, or some other material. But the invention of paper made an easier and less expensive way to conceal our gifts. The first documented use of paper as wrapping material was in China around 100 B.C. when the government would wrap monetary gifts in paper (making a sort of envelope) to distribute to government officials as gifts.

It was during the Victorian Era that gift giving became a true tradition of the holiday season. Originally, gifts were given at New Years rather than Christmas, but that changed as Christmas became more popular and accepted in the United States and Europe.

Victorian Christmas showing packages
wrapped in thick white paper

Photo source unknown

In the early 1800's, wealthy people would use thick paper to wrap their gifts. Then, in the later 1800's, tissue paper was introduced, and it became all the rage to wrap gifts in green, red or white tissue paper decorated with bows and ribbon.

The start of what we know today as wrapping paper happened by accident. It was 1917 in Kansas City, and a shop ran out of tissue paper. Instead, they happened upon some decorated paper from France that was meant for lining the inside of envelopes and decided to take a risk and offer that to customers instead. It quickly sold out. The owners of the shop, Rollie and J.C. Hall, jumped at the opportunity to promote this popular item and started featuring more designs. In 1930's they added ribbon to the already pretty packages. This company became Hallmark, and the modern wrapping paper industry was born.
Photo by cottonbro studio

The size of the wrapping paper industry today is immense. Annual sales are reported to be up to $9.36 billion dollars, with 4 million tons of the paper being thrown away during the holiday season in the United States alone. To put that into perspective, that would be about the weight of four Empire State Buildings. And we're talking about thin, light-weight paper here, folks. Astounding, isn't it? 

Unfortunately, most of the wrapping paper isn't even able to be recycled, due to the mix of foil and paper to make the pretty designs, and the light and inkiness of the paper. This has caused some to advocate for a change from traditional wrapping paper back to materials like newspaper and other more easily recyclable materials. Some wrapping paper companies have started using recycled materials to make the product in the first place. I'm looking forward to the progressions in this area.

What are your holiday gift wrapping traditions? I'd love to hear all about them!


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Thank you for posting today. I fall far short of your ambition in wrapping. I'm fortunate to get it done with some semblance of neatness! I appreciate the wrapping papers that have a grid printed on the back side so it can at least end up straight!!!

  2. This is interesting and something I've never read about before. I enjoy wrapping gifts in paper rather than using gift bags and the children love unwrapping presents more than looking into a bag. I'll admit that I am not a good wrapper. I think I'm too impatient.