Although we still have to shop next Sunday for the alternative gifts we’re giving to some folks, at this point Kathy and I have about 90% of our other Christmas gifts bought and wrapped. As I look around at the packages covered with pictures of birds, Santas, ornaments, trees, and lots an lots of snowmen, I wonder about the disconnect between what’s on the wrapping paper and the Christmas story. It’s not that I’ve got religious objections to Santa Claus or Christmas trees or any of the other things some of the most conservative of Christians shun. In fact, I enjoy almost all of the secular as well as the religious parts of the holiday season. But I still wonder why Christmas wrapping paper doesn’t have religious themes on it. I’ve looked in the stores as we’ve shopped and I’ve looked online and—while every once in a while there’s paper with the word ‘Noel’ on it or, even less frequently, an angel or a star-- I just can’t find any with a manger scene, shepherds, or magi.
What I remember about wrapping Christmas gifts is that it was largely a tradition that began in the Victorian era, sort of as a follow up to the beginning of Christmas cards in the mid-19th century. Christmas cards were a way for everyone—not just those who were wealthy—to send a small gift (e.g. a card) to someone during the holiday season to show that you were thinking of them during the holiday season. Gift wrap soon followed for the rich to wrap their presents in, often coordinating the gift wrap with the Christmas card.
So here’s where I get puzzled. In stores there are—along with cards showing cartoon characters and Santa and dogs dressed up for Christmas—lots of cards with crèche scenes or a Madonna and child, many of which also have religious (if not too religious) messages inside. But there’s no equivalent in Christmas gift wrap. I’m really curious why—both historically and demographically—that is.