The Tradition of Christmas Cards

The buying, sending, and receiving of Christmas cards are things that we now take for granted, but they are actually a fairly recent inclusion in the whole Christmas tradition. So before you start to complain about the number of them you have to buy, and the costs involved in posting them to all of your friends and family, just take a few minutes out to discover a bit more about this fun way of keeping in contact.

The first Christmas card to be sent wasn’t done so for the same reasons as we would send them today. In modern society we send them as a way to let people know that we’re thinking of them over the holiday period, or as a way of saying ‘thanks’ from a business to its customers, or as a way to contact people once a year and write a huge outline of what’s been happening to the family over the year.

The first Christmas card was sent in England in 1843. Sir Henry Cole wanted to show his friends the kind of things that the poor had to put up with over the Christmas period, perhaps as a way of getting them to help out, or, more likely, as a way of pointing out the way that Christmas can give a little bit of hope to those who have none, for at least one day of the year.

This first Christmas card that spawned a multi-million dollar industry was painted by John Calcott Horsley and featured a happy family as well as people helping out the poor and needy, and, quite controversially, especially by modern standards, included two children ‘drinking’; it simply read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.”

Few early English Christmas cards featured the type of religious or wintery themes that we often associate with them. In fact, a lot of the wintery scenes became fairly unseasonal and it’s only now that a lot of countries in the Northern Hemisphere have started to get white Christmases again.

The Christmas card tradition had been going for a full thirty years before a German immigrant sold his first selection of Christmas cards made in America. Within six years Louis Prang had taken this idea and turned it into a business that was producing over five million Christmas cards per year. Unfortunately, in an ironically modern twist, cheap imitations of his Christmas cards eventually forced him out of the market.

The first ‘official’ Christmas card i.e. those sent by members of office, was sent in the 1840’s by Queen Victoria, who started off a great many of the Christmas traditions that are still going today.

Christmas cards have gone through a number of changes in the years since then. You can now get them in all sorts of sizes and shapes. They have a vast array of pictures; after all, people in the Southern Hemisphere are far less likely to identify with a white Christmas when they’re out on the beaches on Christmas Day.

The messages in the cards have changed as a growing number of people decide to wish people ‘Happy Holidays’ as opposed to the more traditional ‘Merry Christmas’, and you can always get them blank and add your own messages.

The cards can be serious, humorous, or have music playing when you open them, and some even have very little in the way that would tell you what time of the year it was.

The types of paper used, and the costs of them, have changed a lot over the years too. Now you can send cards that have no paper in them at all, the birth of the internet also brought the rise of the eCard. The eCard is great if you haven’t sent a traditional Christmas card in time, and they can be far more interactive, but they tend to be very difficult to hang on the wall.

So what of the future? The number of traditional Christmas cards being sent seems to have been on the decrease, but for fans of the traditional, it will probably be a very long time before they’ve been replaced completely.

Now, before it gets too late, make sure you’ve checked your list and sent off all of your Christmas Cards.

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