A Centuries-Old Tradition: Why We Wrap Gifts

A Centuries-Old Tradition: Why We Wrap Gifts

Is a present really a present if it’s not wrapped? We’re a little biased, but we know offering a box in bright paper topped with a bow signals to the receiver they’re being celebrated. That’s why we wrap gifts. It’s a centuries-old tradition because it makes any gesture more thoughtful. How far back does it go? At least the 2nd century BC.


The first documented use of wrapping paper was in ancient China in the Southern Song dynasty. Money was just as popular a gift as it is now, and the Chinese added a sense of ceremony with decorative paper. While the chih pao was more a precursor to an envelope, it led to more elaborate wrapping. The Chinese court used paper made with rice straws and bamboo fiber to distribute gifts to government officials. The red wrapping symbolized happiness and good health.


During the 1600s in the Edo period, Japanese gift-givers used cloth wrapping called furoshiki. It was originally used to wrap up clothes at the public baths so they wouldn’t get taken by the wrong family but evolved into a way to decorate gifts. Today, this tradition is being revived by gift-givers as an alternative to paper since they can use it again. Furoshiki can also be part of the gift—for example, using a scarf as a wrapper which the recipient can keep.


The wrapping paper and ribbon we associate with gifts today goes back to the Victorian age. The upper class used ribbons and lace to disguise their presents. The thick paper they had to work with gave way to easier-to-manage tissue paper in red, green, and white. Shop owners packaged purchases with manila papers.


In 1917 in Kansas City, a stationery store owned by the Hall brothers ran out of solid-colored tissue paper. As a last resort they turned to the colorful French paper meant to line envelopes. Customers loved the fancier patterns, and by 1919 the brothers were producing their own. In the ’30s, they started selling ribbon, too. In the ’50s the brother renamed their company Hallmark.


LaRibbons & Co. carries on the ritual with wrapping supplies of all themes: glitter, kraft, seasonal, metallic, graphic, and more. That’s why we wrap gifts. It’s a centuries-old tradition that’s become an increasingly creative way to heighten the surprise of a gift. With so many papers and ribbons to choose from, you can express yourself and how you feel about the ones you love.