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Forest Products and the Holidays

Christmas TreeMany of you celebrated National Forest Products Week from October 20-26th this year. Begun in 1960, this week-long holiday, held the third week in October, celebrates the many and varied products that come from our forests.

As we enter the busy holiday season, let's look at the history and traditions associated with the forest products we use this time of year.

Christmas trees, with their decorations and star on top, began as a German tradition, Tannenbaum, as early as 700 AD. The first written reference to Christmas trees dates from 1531when a candle-lit tree amazed the people of Strasbourg. By the 1800s the traditional Christmas tree was widespread throughout Europe, and then slowly spread to England and then America through German immigrants to Pennsylvania. Early Christmas trees were decorated with fruits, nuts, lighted candles, paper roses, and then later with tinsel, ornaments, candy canes, and the star representing the star of Bethlehem. Other greenery, such as evergreen garlands and wreaths, are used to provide color during the sometimes-dreary midwinter season.

Each year, nearly 40 million American families purchase Christmas trees. About 81.6 percent of these trees will be farm-grown. The Christmas tree industry employs over 100,000 people who work on the more than 1 million acres of land planted with Christmas trees. Over 73 million new Christmas trees will be planted this year. Artificial trees have been available to consumers since 1900. As the University of Illinois Extension Service points out, artificial trees “will last about six years in the home, but last centuries in a landfill.”

Paper is another forest product widely used during the holidays. Christmas cards started in London in 1843 and then came to America in 1846. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, the first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, was too busy to write personal Christmas greetings to his friends, so he commissioned painter John Calcott Horsley to design a card. That year, 1,000 of Horsley’s Christmas cards were printed and sold in London’s stores. Today only about a dozen of them are known to still exist.

Each year, about 2 billion Christmas cards and about 18 billion letters and packages are exchanged in the United States, resulting in the hiring of nearly 40,000 temporary workers to handle the additional workload.

Canada PostageThe first Christmas stamp in the world was the 1898 Canadian two-cent stamp with the Mercator map and also the words “XMAS 1898”. It was not until 1962 that the United States issued its first Christmas stamp.

US StampPrinted Christmas gift wrap came about almost by accident. In 1917, the founder of Hallmark, Joyce C. Hall, sold out of the colored gift wrap used for holiday packages. He hastily substituted some printed envelope lining papers from France and sold them for 10 cents a sheet. These envelope lining papers were so popular that the decorative gift wrap business was created, and became the first Hallmark product other than greeting cards.

Here are a few more products from our forests that we use during the holiday season:

  • boxes, packages, and gift tags for gifts
  • logs for the fireplace
  • in France, Holland and other European countries, children put out their wooden shoes on Christmas Eve for Santa (or le Père de Noël, St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas) to fill with gifts
  • switches and lumps of coal for naughty children! (Remember that even coal started out as leaves, trees, and other plant matter.)
  • can you think of others?

For more information on the history of paper, all the way back to China in 105 AD, be sure to visit our Paper U History of Paper page and check the website of the American Museum of Papermaking.

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ACTIVITIES Return to Top


Click here to enlarge image

Quilling is the art of rolling very thin strips of paper into different scroll shapes, creating artistic designs with the various shapes, which are then glued onto a backing. Quilling is also known as paper filigree or paper scroll work.

Italian nuns first produced quillwork in the 1600s by rolling strips of paper into curlicue shapes around a large feather quill (hence the term quilling). Then quilling moved to France, and later to England. It came to America before the American Revolution. During the Renaissance, it was a craft practiced by rich ladies at a time when paper itself was a scarce luxury. Today, museums prize quilled boxes and other richly decorated items from that era.

Quilling is an inexpensive hobby, requires no special tools, is suitable for any age group, and can be as simple or complex as you wish. Send your own very special quilled greeting cards this holiday season!

Here's how to start quilling:

Materials needed:

  • pre-cut strips of quilling paper, purchased at hobby and craft stores, or you can make your own by cutting 1/8-inch strips of paper into 8-inch lengths
  • specially designed quilling tool, available from craft stores, or you may use household objects, such as toothpicks, pins, paintbrush, or knitting needles
  • white glue
  • a ruler to help you produce uniform shapes
  • a work board, such as a piece of corrugated board covered with wax paper or plastic wrap

Assemble all your supplies and your work surface. Wrap an entire strip of paper around the toothpick (or other tool). Remove the toothpick, and paste the end of the strip to the curled circle to hold it in place. For variety, you can use varying colors and widths of paper strips. Use your creativity to make different designs from the basic circle shapes by pinching, pushing, folding and rolling them into oval, teardrop, heart, and leaf shapes. Then glue your quilled shapes onto paper to create your picture.

Here are some of the basic quilling shapes:

Click here to enlarge image
1. basic tight circle - remove toothpick and glue end
2. basic loose circle - remove toothpick, loosen roll, and glue end
3. teardrop - pinch one side of the roll, then glue
4. heart - fold the strip of paper in half and roll the ends toward the crease
5. leaf or marquise - pinch on opposite sides of the roll, then glue
6. scrolls [V scroll, S scroll, and C scroll] - roll the ends of the strips from one or both ends, facing in or out

Paper Filigree or Quilling
The Art of Quilling
Quilling Information - Techniques, Designs and Ideas
Papercrafts Around the World, by Phyllis and Noel Fiarotta, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York

NEWS Return to Top

American Museum of PapermakingWant to know even more about the history of paper?

Then visit the Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking, either online or in Atlanta adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus. As part of the Institute of Paper Science and Technology (IPST), this museum is an internationally renowned resource on the history of paper and paper technology. The collection features more than 2,000 books, over 10,000 watermarks, papers, tools, machines and manuscripts, all related to the history of paper and papermaking.

PapermakingThe American Museum of Papermaking offers its visitors guided tours of the museum, a series of hands-on workshops and lectures on papermaking, and changing exhibits showcasing prominent artists in the field. The virtual tour of the museum covers the history of paper from its invention in China in 105 AD to the modern era. At the end of your tour, be sure to stop in the museum's gift shop for paper gifts, handmade cards and ornaments, paper jewelry, plus books and other items of interest to the hand papermaker.

DID YOU KNOW? Return to Top

Sending greeting cards is a universal custom, with 2.5 billion holiday cards sent every year.

Greeting cards are available for more than 20 different holidays. The most popular card-sending holiday is Christmas, accounting for over 60% of all individual seasonal cards sold.

President and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the first United States Presidential Christmas cards, produced by Hallmark, in 1953.

The first special-issue postage stamp for Christmas was issued in 1937 in Austria. The first official U.S. Christmas stamp was produced in 1962.

Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since around 1850.

In North America, there are more than 15,000 Christmas tree growers.



Hello! I am writing a novel and in order to know what time period to set it in, I am trying to find out when tissue paper began to be commonly used in the United States. I am especially interested in tissue paper used as gift-wrap. If this is too much to ask, could you please just tell me when gift-wrap was invented or came into general use? If you can give me this information or direct me to any other resources, I would very much appreciate it.

Answer: Printed Christmas gift-wrap came about almost by accident. In 1917, the founder of Hallmark, Joyce C. Hall, sold out of the red, white, and green tissue and holly pattern gift-wrap used for holiday packages. He hastily substituted some printed envelope lining papers from France and sold them for 10 cents a sheet. These envelope-lining papers were so popular that the decorative gift-wrap business was born, and became the first Hallmark product other than greeting cards.

White and colored tissue was first put on rolls for re-sale by the Crystal company in 1921, according to It was sold in variety chain stores such as the S. S. Kresge Company.

Below are some additional key dates to help you determine the setting for your novel:

  • 1850 paper bags made for the first time [by hand]
  • 1871 toilet paper available in roll form for the first time
  • 1895 paper napkins available
  • 1907 paper towels first marketed
  • 1910 bread and fruit were wrapped in printed paper
  • 1913 Scott® Brand toilet paper introduced
  • 1924 Kleenex® tissues introduced

Here are a few web sites on this subject:
Oranges in Tissue Paper [1890 painting]:
Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking:

Based on the above information, it should be safe to set your novel in the early 1900s or later. We hope that this information is useful to you, and we wish you the best of luck with your project

RESOURCES Return to Top

A good history of greeting cards and postcards can be found at

Learn to make a dreidel, and then how to play! You'll find this and other paper crafts for every season at

Why are holly and mistletoe used to decorate homes at Christmas? Discover these and many other little-known tidbits at

Find everything you've ever wanted to know about Christmas trees at this informative site from the University of Illinois Extension Service: Also check out "How Christmas Trees Work" at

All over the world, November and December are months filled with celebration. Read about holidays around the world at Also visit the ChildFun Family Website at for new and unusual holiday craft and cooking ideas.

Did you know that the first Christmas stamp was created over 100 years ago in Canada? Trace the history of Christmas stamps at and

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If you missed any of last year's editions of the Paper University e-newsletter, visit our archives:
  Sept./Oct. 2001: Apples and Forest Conservation
Nov./Dec. 2001: Recycling
Jan./Feb. 2002: Books and Libraries
Mar./Apr. 2002: Earth Day 2002
Sep./Oct. 2002: Back to School!


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