For some people, what makes Christmas is the sending and receiving of cards. Even with everything being online nowadays and everything being done through social media, these cards continue to be a staple element of the festive season. Of course, this element has gone digital to a degree as well, which is why we now see such an influx in Christmas card printing. But just what is the history of this tradition?
The Tradition of Sending Christmas Cards
Some 150 years ago in the United Kingdom, the first Christmas card, and purely by chance. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, who founded the V&A (Victoria and Albert) Museum, didn’t have the time to send each of his friends and colleagues a handwritten note. Hence, to make things easier, he asked John Calcott Horsley, a local painter, to create an image of the needy and poor receiving clothes and foods. In the center, a family celebrating Christmas was featured, and the message “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You” was printed on it. This was the first Christmas card, and it became popular the world over.
Towards the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century, these cards were very fancy. They featured satin, lace, and silk. They also started to become an import item to the United States. However, Louis Prang, a German immigrant, opened a lithographic shop and created the first Christmas cards in America. He made Christmas themes and winter motifs.
Often, on the first cards, birds, fairies, flowers, and natural images were shown on the British cards. There was little relation to winter or religious themes. Later, this changed to Santa Clause, fireplaces, Christmas trees, and snowy landscapes. By the start of the 20th century, when the printing press became more advanced, Christmas cards were seen all over Europe and particularly in Germany.
Then, the “trick card” was developed in the Victorian era. This required people to pull on a lever or string and reveal a surprise. The most popular was that which popped out flowers.
The first Hallmark card was created in 1915 by John C. Hall and his two brothers. They continue to be the biggest card producer in the world. By then, charities started to think that they could use these cards to raise funds. In 1943, UNICEF launched its Christmas Card Program, still popular today. And in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to send out an official White House Christmas card, choosing a prominent artist to depict the White House and its winter decorations, a tradition that continues to this day.
Today, Christmas cards come in lots of different designs. Indeed, thanks to digital technology, it is now very popular to personalize these cards to depict a photograph or family image. Often, a themed border or background is added, such as the Star of Bethlehem or other Christmas symbols. So when you send a card out this year, spare a thought for its long and fascinating history!