The History of Christmas Cards

Christmas cardsHave you finished sending out all your Christmas cards? Sending Christmas cards out to family and friends is an longstanding tradition. As such, many of us take the time (and spend the money) to send a Christmas card to a long list of people. Some of them may be people we don’t even connect with at any other time if the year. Have you ever wondered how the tradition of sending Christmas cards got started?

The first Christmas card was created by John Callcot Horsley. He was a British narrative painter and a Royal Academician. The idea for the Christmas card came from his friend, Sir Henry Cole, who was the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In other words, the man who created the first Christmas card was doing so at someone else’s request.

Sir Henry Cole wanted to John Callcot Horsley to create an image that would be a specially designed form of greeting that he could send to his friends at Christmas. The first Christmas card was printed in 1843 in an edition of 1,000 cards.

The idea of sending out Christmas cards did not immediately catch on. The cost of having an artist create the card, and a printer reproduce it, was prohibitively expensive. There were also people who felt that Christmas cards were inappropriate. It has been said that the temperance league believed the card, which showed a gathering of friends drinking together, would encourage drinking!

There were two changes that made the ability to send a Christmas card a lot more acceptable. The Post Office transitioned from using horse and carriages to deliver the mail to sending mail by train. As a result, the cost of sending out a post card, or a card in an envelope, became less expensive. This enabled people who previously could not afford to send out Christmas cards to do so.

The other change was that printing methods improved. It became less expensive to print out a large quantity of Christmas cards. Early Christmas cards showed Nativity scenes. Other popular images, in Victorian times, included robins. The postmen wore red uniforms and were called “Robin Postmen”. Snow scenes were also popular because they reminded people of the incredibly bad winter of 1836.

Christmas cards did not appear in the United States of America until the late 1840’s. At first, they were prohibitively expensive. Later, a printer named Louis Prang (a German who worked on the early Christmas cards in the UK) came to America and started producing cards for people to buy. This included not only Christmas cards but other types as well. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brother’s created Hallmark Cards.

Handmade Christmas cards were popular during the 1910’s and 1920’s. People added ribbons and made the cards into unusual shapes. These cards were too fragile to send through the mail, so people had to deliver them by hand. Today, people can send out Christmas cards that include a family photo either through the mail or through the internet.

Image by Makia Minich Flickr.

Related Articles:

* Celebrate Your Heritage with Christmas Ornaments that Reflect It

* Christmas Traditions from Around the World – Part 1

* Christmas Gifts for Children in 1913

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