Wrapping Up the Year

by John on December 24, 2010

Wrapping up the Year

‘Tis the season for journalists, pundits and TV hosts to serenade us with their solipsistic summary of the year’s events.  These annual wrap-ups have much in common with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; the opinionator serving the role of Marley’s Ghost, leading the audience through that which has been lost from Christmas Past, the dire warnings of Christmas Yet to Come, and damnably little to be thankful for with Christmas Present.

I was saved from my pundit induced gloom and despondency as to a seasonally hopeful topic by a Thanksgiving dinner suggestion from my daughter, Tessa, who was visiting from Seattle,  where  she is an artist. Proxart Magazine  http://proxart.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/tessa-hulls/ has an interview with her. She thought that rather than annual wrap-ups,  it would be interesting to write about wrapping up gifts.  It turns out to be a rich subject involving everything from technology to tradition.

Gift giving has existed from time immemorial, but elaborate wrapping paper is pretty recent.  It was Charles Dicken’s 1843 tale that was largely responsible for the Victorian era’s resurgence of old British winter solstice customs, both pagan and Christian.  Many of these had been forbidden by Cromwell and the Puritans after the Second English Civil War of 1648.  A Christmas Carol mentions the presents wrapped with brown paper and string, but technology was about to be turned loose on gift wrapping.

In 1857, Joseph Gayety invented toilet tissue, which had little resemblance to the softness of the modern product, but did allow economical manufacture of large, strong sheets of thin paper.  To give you an idea as to the nature of the paper,  Ebenezer Butterick used it for his sewing patterns,  as it was easy to fold and send through the mail, thus revolutionizing home sewing.  The Butterick Pattern Company, founded in 1863 in Sterling, Massachusetts, exists to this day.

Tissue paper, either white or dyed in bright reds and greens, became the standard for wrapping Christmas gifts.  The invention of ‘flexography’ in 1890 allowed colored printing on large sheets of paper.  Joyce Clyde Hall and his brother Rollie introduced modern printed gift wrapping in Kansas City in 1917.  Their store ran out of the traditional tissue paper, and they substituted printed French envelope lining paper.  It sold so well that they started printing their own, under their new Hallmark brand.

It’s hard not to wonder about the short life span of gift wrap and its inevitable journey to the landfill but this is the season for looking forward hopefully, and the Japanese have a great gift wrapping tradition.   Ms. Yuriko Koike, as Japan’s Minister of the Environment,  tells us about it.

“I’ve created what you might call a “mottainai furoshiki”. The Japanese word  “mottainai” means it’s a shame for something to go to waste without having made use of its potential in full. The furoshiki is made of a fiber manufactured from recycled PET bottles, and has a birds-and-flowers motif drawn by Itoh Jakuchu, a painter of the mid-Edo era. The Japanese wrapping cloth known as the furoshiki is said to have been first used in the Muromachi Period (1392-1573), when people spread it out in place of a bath mat or wrapped one’s clothes with it. The furoshiki is so handy that you can wrap almost anything in it regardless of size or shape with a little ingenuity by simply folding it in a right way. It’s much better than plastic bags you receive at supermarkets or wrapping paper, since it’s highly resistant, reusable and multipurpose. In fact, it’s one of the symbols of traditional Japanese culture, and puts an accent on taking care of things and avoiding wastes. It would be wonderful if the furoshiki, as a symbol of traditional Japanese culture, could provide an opportunity for us to reconsider the possibilities of a sound-material cycle society.  As my sincere wish, I would like to disseminate the culture of the furoshiki to the entire world.”

Her web site contains instructions at: http://www.env.go.jp/en/focus/attach/060403-5.html and http://www.recyclenow.com/what_can_i_do_today/furoshiki_japanese_w.html has a great instructional video.  Maybe pundits could consider furoshiki when presenting us with their year end wrap-ups.  I like the thought of people wrapping everything, including ideas,  with something that comes from a well-considered, elegant and sustainable philosophy.

So I’ll try my hand at wrapping things up by noting that here we are again, sitting on a pretty blue planet, warmed as we circle a rather typical type G star, located in a remote spiral arm of a nice, but unexceptional galaxy, and we’ve made it round one more time.  Regardless of your perspective on who if anybody really runs the show,  it’s hard to find fault with Tiny Tim’s last hopeful, redeeming and inclusive line from Dicken’s  A Christmas Carol ;  “God Bless us all.  Everyone.”

Wishing you all Season’s Best and a Somewhat Logical New Year.

(By the way, the upside down Christmas tree in the first picture celebrates an old 12th Century central European tradition, where the triangular shape of upside down tree celebrated the Christian Trinity.)

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