Many of the Christmas traditions we follow today originated in the Victorian period, and I find it fascinating to learn about how those traditions started—and how they have evolved over the centuries. As we near the Christmas holiday, it seems like the perfect opportunity to explore the history of wrapping presents and how you can make your own wrapping paper, just like the Victorians did!
The History Of Wrapping Presents
Today wrapping paper is available in just about every design imaginable, from popular animated characters to Christmas designs and even bespoke patterns that are elaborate enough to rival some of the prettiest wallpapers. As it turns out, wrapping paper has been used going back as far as the 1300s!
Why Do We Wrap Presents at Christmas?
In ancient Chinese tradition, giving a wrapped gift was thought to offer protection and good luck to the recipient, and these early forms of gift wrap were actually done with fabric rather than paper. Later, in the 1600s, the Japanese also used fabric for wrapping gifts using a style known as furoshiki, which is still used to this day.
Who Invented Wrapping Paper?
The type of decorative wrapping paper we’re familiar with today was invented by the Hall brothers—of Hallmark fame—in 1917 and was initially sold at their stationery store in Kansas City, Missouri. The brothers’ stroke of genius was thanks to a blend of accident and necessity. During the 1917 holiday shopping season, they ran out of tissue paper—which, at that time, had been used to wrap gifts. When the Hall brothers happened upon a stock of French paper intended for lining envelopes, they decided to take a chance and sell it in place of the sold-out tissue paper—and it sold out instantly!
How Did Victorians Wrap Christmas Presents?
During the Victorian period, it was not uncommon for people to make their own wrapping paper—and it’s a simple technique that you can replicate today for a fun and easy holiday craft!
Victorian Christmas Wrapping Paper
The Victorians used a technique called “marbling,” which I had first learned of through a BBC series called “Victorian Farm.”
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Oil-based paint in various colors
- Sheets of paper (it’s best to use a paper that is thicker than standard copy paper while still being suitable for folding and wrapping)
- Dishpan or rimmed cookie sheet
And here’s how to make your own traditional Christmas gift wrap:
- Fill a basin with about a half-inch of cold water (a dishpan or a rimmed cookie sheet would work just fine).
- Add drops of paint to the water, interspersing the different colors based on your desired look. (Don’t stir the ink/paint in the water!)
- Carefully lay the first sheet of paper on top of the water and press gently so that the entire surface of the paper is touching the water without being submerged.
- Allow the paper to sit on the water for a few seconds.
- In one swift movement, lift the paper off of the water, then lay it colored side up to dry.
- Repeat with additional sheets of paper as needed.
(Victorian wrapping paper examples, as seen on BBC’s “Victorian Farm.”)