MARTY RUSSELL: Guess who we can thank for wrapping paper



This time of the year is the worst for tree-huggers, even Christmas tree-huggers. The felling of millions of evergreens each year so we can put them up in our homes and admire them for a few weeks before tossing them out is just a drop in the bucket compared to how many trees have to be sacrificed to give us that most feared of holiday traditions by man (not necessarily woman) – gift wrap.

According to statistics, Americans alone throw out about 2 million tons of wrapping paper each Christmas. Since it takes about 15 mature trees to create about one ton, that means it takes about 30 million trees to produce that colorful, gift-disguising, Y- chromosome-befuddling paper that gets immediately ripped off the package and discarded each holiday season.

Now the difficulty of folding, taping and decorating gifts aside, at least for us Y-chromosome types – shouldn’t there be an easier way to present a present? I mean once you’ve got the wrapping paper torn off, the recipient still has to blast their way through the manufacturer’s packaging to get to that gift usually entombed in enough protective plastic to withstand a nuclear explosion.

The Japanese have the right idea. They employ a tradition known as furoshiki, which is wrapping gifts in colorful cloth rather than paper. The recipient can then recycle the cloth by wrapping more gifts in it and passing it on to someone else, saving countless trees and no doubt the backs of many sanitation workers.

But it was in China where paper gift-wrapping first began with the invention of paper around the first century A.D. The tradition spread throughout the world although colorful, ornate wrapping paper is a fairly new twist. Up until the beginning of the 20th century most holiday wrapping paper here in the U.S. was either plain, thick, brown paper or light, translucent tissue paper in solid colors.

So how did this multicolored, shiny, holiday-decorated, paper-consuming madness each Christmas season come to be? Ask the perpetrators.

As the story goes, it was quite by accident. Two brothers, Joyce and Rollie Hall, owned a stationery store in Kansas City back in 1917. That Christmas season the brothers sold out of all their plain brown paper as well as tissue paper so they moved some decorated paper normally used for lining the insides of envelopes to the front of the store and passed it off as wrapping paper.

They quickly sold out of that so the next Christmas they began producing wrapping paper printed with Christmas themes and their business – Hallmark – took off.

That doesn’t change the fact that come Dec. 26 most of that paper will wind up in a landfill and it doesn’t change the fact that, despite thousands of years of evolution, those of us with a Y chromosome are still perplexed by the intricacies of paper and Scotch tape.

We’re still waiting for the next revolution – the gift-wrapping machine.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

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