Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas & Hanukkah Wrapping Paper.....Frugal Alternatives to Buying It

Giving gifts at the Holidays goes back at least as far as the official celebrating of Christmas in our country-about 150 years.  The history of gift wrap is almost as long.

In the 1800's wrapping a Christmas gift was not an elaborate affair.  Usually the gift was presented wrapped in brown paper or white tissue paper, if it was wrapped at all.  The forerunner of the modern 'Gift Bag' was used in this century as well, in the form of a paper basket or cornucopia.

At the end of the nineteenth century, mechanized technology evolved to the point at which colored paper could be printed cheaply in sheets large enough to be used for wrapping things.  A rotary system that rolled huge lengths of paper onto tubes and cut them into usable sizes was developed in the 1890's and gave rise to the first American Gift Wrap Company, Hy-Sill Manufacturing Inc. in 1903.  This company is still in existence today and celebrated it's 106th year in business in 2009!

But the Wrapping Industry's largest seller, Hallmark, landed in this business goldmine quite by accident.  Hallmark's founders, the Hall Brothers, had a successful Greeting Card business in Missouri.  They carried among the other secondary items in their turn of the century stationer's shop, tissue paper at Christmastime for wrapping holiday gifts in Christmas colors of red, green & white.  In 1917 after selling out of their stock of tissue paper early, Rollie Hall, took some decorated sheets of paper for lining envelopes that they had imported from France, and put them out to substitute for the sold out tissue paper.  This paper flew off the shelves and the following year they ordered extra to sell at Christmas time to wrap presents.  This ersatz wrapping paper sold so well, the Hall Bros. developed their own decorated paper and began manufacturing it.  Hallmark gift wrap now is one of the company's largest sellers!

The next big development that helped the wrapping paper industry grow was the invention of sticky cellophane tape.  Until 1930, wrappers had to be a bit more creative to get their paper to stay put, using string, wax seals or later in the 1920's, small sticky foil seals.

The Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah often overlaps with Christmas as well, as it is also celebrated in December too.  In the latter half of the 20th century in North America, it became commonplace for American jewish parents to give presents to their children at Hanukkah, over the course of eight nights(as well as or in place of the traditional gift of 'gelt' or gold coins)much in the way that Santa brings gentile children presents on Christmas Eve.  This new consumer market gave rise to it's own expanding niche of gift wrapping paper and accessories for those who celebrate Hanukkah.  The Hanukkah gift wrapping paper industry is now a multi-million dollar concern as well.

Nowadays, your choices of gift wrap are limited only by the imagination of the industry's designers.  Any color, design, treatment are available.  There are all kinds of ribbons, gift tags, and assorted charms to choose from.  Even the artistically or craft-challenged can look like a pro with the pre-made bows and accessories sold today.

Though you can find deals on paper, bows and other trappings of the season, you can also end up paying quite a bit of money for the wrapping components when it is all added up.
Not only is the cost additional money out of your pocket, but there is an environmental cost that goes with all this consuming of natural resources for a product that is used once, briefly and then torn up and thrown away!
Consider for a moment the amount of garbage generated by this billion dollar industry.  All the trees logged and no longer being able to generate life-giving oxygen.  All those manufacturing plants pumping out non-degradeable plastic components like ribbon & bows, cellophane sheets for wrapping and tape.
All those resources clogging up landfills so we can have a pretty wrapped gift.

I don't think it's a very wise choice.

There are ways to lessen your negative impact on our world and still have your Holiday traditions of wrapping gifts.  Here are some ideas....

1. If you have gift wrap already from past Holidays, use it, but Do Not buy anymore!  Use up what you have.  If you save from year to year your leftovers, you probably have more than enough already to get the job done this year.

2. Many people do not save and throw away each season, gift wrapping and accessories, buying new each year.  Ask your friends and neighbors to let you 'adopt' their orphaned wrapping paper if they trash their leftover supplies after Christmas or Hanukkah.

3. Open your wrapped gifts gently and carefully instead of tearing into them like the Tasmanian Devil!  If you unwrap gifts carefully you will have the paper to reuse and wrap another gift with next year.  Take your iron, set on medium heat, and with the wrong side of the paper up, iron out any wrinkles and reroll onto an old cardboard tube you have saved. The wrapping paper will be good as new and ready to decorate a gift again.

4. Instead of buying pricey wrapping paper, try using 'found' papers around your house.  The Sunday know, the colorful ones?  They make a nice wrapping paper.  I have even tried unused posters to wrap gifts.  I had a stash of 'still in the package', unwanted leftover posters I used once as wrapping paper.

5. Try using brown or white butcher paper.  It will be a more frugal choice and a bit better choice environmentally, since it cuts out the pollution generated by the inking process of the designs on wrapping paper.  A minimalist look of unadorned paper can be quite beautiful too!
Decorate the plain paper with leftover stickers from the kids, or stamps & ink if you are into scrapbooking and have those handy.  Give the kids crayons and let them loose in the plain paper wrapped gifts to artistically decorate them.  Glue found objects of nature or old silk flowers laying around your craft box to the paper.  You are limited only by your own imagination!

While all these ideas are creative and a much better alternative to going out and buying another bag full of commercially printed wrapping paper, even better is this idea.

6. Take a page from the Japanese culture by using a Furoshiki, a traditional wrapping cloth. You can buy them or make your own version.  It's basically a square of cloth and among it's many uses, can be used like wrapping paper to cover a gift.  If you have a length of cloth, you've got the makings of a Furoshiki cloth.  An old tablecloth or skirt that's ready for the trash?  Why not reuse that article and cut a Furoshiki out of it?  If you can sew and hem it, that's great but it's not required.  Use a piece of knit fabric and it won't unravel at the edges even or cut your cloth out using pinking shears for a decorative edge.
Do you know someone who sews?  See if they have any leftover fabric you can have or if they can help you cut or hem the cloths.  Check out thrift stores for fabric or even used tablecloths and napkins.  An old napkin is the perfect size for many gifts and would make an instant Furoshiki cloth!
Check out the fabric stores after the Holidays when the Christmas and Hanukkah prints go on clearance.  Pick up holiday fabrics for making Furoshiki cloths for next year for a greatly reduced price.  This initial outlay of cash after the holidays for the fabric will save you money over the coming years as you won't have to buy wrapping paper every year and it will be better for the planet too.

Since it's not disposable, Furoshikis can be used again and again and over it's lifetime can help you save many natural resources.  While many Asian cultures have a similar tradition, the recent Minister of Environment in Japan has taken upon herself to promote Furoshiki use as an eco-friendly alternative to the manufacture of plastic for bags and the consuming of wood resources as well.  The Furoshiki cloth can be configured many different ways so you can be quite creative in your wrapping.  There is a chart located HERE that shows the various ways to tie up a Furoshiki cloth.

As you can see, there are many alternatives to just plunking down more of your hard-earned cash to buy yet another roll of overpriced gift wrapping paper.  It's not-so-good for your finances and it's definitely not friendly for our environment.
Go green by going frugal this Christmas!



  1. I have used the sunday comics. I've also used a paper bag and had my then 3 yr old daughter decorate it with paint and glitter. We have bought the .99 cent rolls of wrapping paper but never thought of using cloth like that. My sister doesn't wrap any gifts she just makes a pile for her daughter and a pile for her son at Christmas. I like the excitement of not knowing whats in a package so I like the ideal of using the cloth, gotta remember that one for next year.

  2. Brilliant idea! and its not too late for me to make a few

  3. I was just thinking about getting Christmas pillows to wrap our gifts in or maybe sheets. And you will be happy to know that we use a lot of gift bags and just reuse them. And Santa has never wrapped his gifts.
    Thank you for all the information, it was useful and enlightening!

  4. We have quite a bit of paper from past post-Christmas stocking-up trips to WalMart the morning after, so we won't need more wrapping paper for quite awhile, especially since we also tend to use boxes and bags and then save and reuse them year after year. But I agree, I used to buy rolls and rolls of wrapping paper without ever thinking about the landfill consequences. I've started being more careful, and would eventually like to switch completely to cloth bags and other reusable containers. Great post, Sluggy!!!

  5. I've used comics and foil in the past in a pinch and they always look cute. I've got gobs of wrapping paper and ribbons left over from years past as well. I shouldn't have to buy any new this year.
    There have been years where I found the Hobby Lobby 90% off sale after Christmas, stocked up on everything and forgot that I bought it the next year. Then when hunting thru the garage for things, I come across it. It's like hitting the sale all over again!

  6. Great post sluggy! I wish I had seen it in time.

    For me, although i firmly maintain that Channukah is not a gift-giving holiday, I do give gifts to my nephews and nieces who are quite young. i don't want them growing up thinking they are missing out on all the "fun." As they get older though, and can appreciate the holiday on its own merits (and have some selfesteem built up, a necessity for any minority group), the gift giving will cease.

    When wrapping I normally use the comics from all those sunday papers. I also have used a variety of things such as paper grocery sacks, reusable shopping bags (my alltime favourite--these can be picked up at yardsales all the time for a dime, and continues to eliminate environmental degredation), and used vintage wallpaper (carefully removed in sheets) from a renovation project (Spraying with water and ironing makes it pliable).



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