The first Christmas wrapping papers were a happy accident.
The Hall Brothers of Kansas City, Mo., ran out of their usual supply of Christmas tissue paper just a few days before the holiday in 1917. Rollie Hall quickly set out a stack of decorative French envelope liners. They sold out fast, and did so again the following year. The brothers saw they were on to something, and the rest is history; their Hallmark company remains one of the giants in the industry.
Wrapping presents is one of the mostly closely held Christmas traditions — gift wrap was even one of the few things not rationed during World War II. The War Office was aiming to keep American morale up and encourage people to send gifts to soldiers overseas. Sales actually increased more than 20 percent during the war years, according to "The History of Gift Wrap" by Mac Carey on MyMerryChristmas.com.
For many of us, wrapping gifts is an opportunity to practice creativity.
This holiday season, there are four main trends in wrapping paper, according to Ann Thornton, gift packaging buyer for The Container Store.
"We're seeing retro and traditional designs reminiscent of simpler times — the look of hand-drawn images," she said.
"Birds and whimsical animals will be another strong theme, as well as simple nature silhouettes — leaves, branches and pine cones.
"And finally elegant brocades and swirls will be popular."
Metals and metallic accents; greens ranging from apple to emerald; on-trend purples, pinks and grays; as well as crisp red and white make up this season's color palette.
The Container Store is known for introducing patterns each year. This season, '70s-style birds perch on swirly branches in muted hues of pale pink, turquoise, gray and cream. On another wrap, brocade-printed ornaments in shades of mauve, gold and shell pink cascade down a charcoal background.
For lovers of vintage Christmases, there are charming Santas and Scottish terriers cavorting among '40s- and '50s-style type fonts.
And if sparkle is what you're after, choose a coppery tapestry, twinkling azure snowflakes or a galaxy of holographic stars.
Over at the upscale Paper Source, the creative team has taken a cheerful tack this year. "We've incorporated happy, lighthearted themes like dogs with Santa hats, sparkly glitter, cookies and confections. We wanted our 2010 wraps to be fun," says company spokesman Carolyn Agnew.
The collection includes two flocked papers: a red and black plaid and a Fair Isle reindeer motif. Both the candy cane and gum drop patterns are decidedly yummy looking. Black and white penguins on an aqua background make a hip color combo. And there are several designs, including gingerbread men and swirly snowflakes, printed on recycled "paper bag" paper, which gives an interesting vintage feel.
At PaperMojo, find Wooster & Prince's contemporary take on the iconic poinsettia, in vivid tomato red on a graphite background. Moravian tiles, a big decor motif right now, emblazon a color-saturated wrap that's classic and cool.
Snow and Graham has two pretty nature-themed designs: wintry birch trees on an icy blue background, and sweet brown wrens nestled among pine cones and boughs. Like many of these contemporary designs, they'd be perfect for both Christmas and Hanukkah.
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www.paper-source.com - Santa Hat Dogs wrapping paper, $2.50-$7.50; Candy Canes, $2.50-$7.95; Modern Snowflakes, $2.50-$7.95; Penguins, $2.50-$7.95
www.snowandgraham.com - Birch trees, $6.50; Pine Cones, $6.50
www.containerstore.com - Holly Swirl, $7.95; Flocked Trees, $8.99; Blue Owls, two $8.99; Snowflakes, $7.95; Retro Birds on white, $4.99; Ornaments on gray, $6.49
www.papermojo.com - Wooster & Prince poinsettia paper, $2.79; Moravian tiles, $2.79