To gift wrap, or not to gift wrap? That is the holiday question

Combining colors and patterns on a set of packages

You might want to think twice before giving unwrapped gifts on Christmas, birthdays and other holidays, according to actual scientific research on the etiquette of wrapping.

Elizabeth Porublev from Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia,  completed her PhD on how wrapping is used, or not used, and what it says about the status of a relationship and the gift giver.

Wrapped Christmas Presents

To gift wrap, or not to gift wrap?

In her 2011 study, “Unwrapping the relevance of gift wrapping,” she identified three types of gift-wrappers: passionate wrappers, conventional wrappers and detached wrappers.

“Passionate wrappers believe gift wrapping is highly relevant to gift giving,” she says. “They believe they are more than capable of wrapping a gift, and will often take risks with gift wrapping techniques and styles as a source of personal creativity.” This type does it more for themselves as a form of creative expression than for the receiver.

The conventional wrappers may have less flair, but respect gift wrapping as a social norm. “These people believe gift wrapping contributes to social bonds between the giver and receiver,” she says. “They wrap because it is expected and as receivers, they like to receive gifts that are wrapped.”

But the third group, detached wrappers, feels gift wrapping is of limited relevance, and only bow to pressure on special occasions. “They will only wrap gifts when they feel it is required, and are the most likely to outsource gift wrapping to a third party,” says Porublev.

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Poor awareness of gift-wrapping norms meant detached wrappers were often judged for falling outside acceptable standards by the other groups — but not as much as non-wrappers, who were socially unacceptable by choice.

“People have come to expect that a gift should be wrapped,” she said. “A naked gift can indicate the low worth of relationship or that the giver has an unwillingness to personally invest in the gift.”

Ms Porublev said whatever you decided to do, it was important recognize the power of wrapping.

“Just as we remove price tags to remove all commercial aspects of the gifts, so wrapping extends that process of turning a commodity into something sacred,” she said.

As the first part of the gift to be seen, wrapping can set the mood for a gift and also heighten the element of surprise and drama of the event, she said.

Gift wrapping in its present form emerged in 1917, when the Hallmark Brothers, in their Kansas City store, ran out of tissue paper and began offering envelope liners to wrap Christmas gifts. According to Hallmark, the worldwide retail gift wrap industry is now worth more than $2.9 billion a year.

Ms Porublev’s interest in gift giving and gift wrapping started with a year-long stay in Japan, where she said gifts are presented beautifully — some with several layers representing different blessings on the gift.

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