Henry Cole, an Englishman, was too busy to write personal greetings
for Christmas 1843. Cole hired artist John Calcott Horsley to design
a ready to be sent card.
The hand-colored card Horsley designed was
lithographed on stiff, dark cardboard and featured adults
and children raising wine glasses in a toast. The first Christmas
card also had various religious symbols. Sprigs
of holly symbolized chastity, while ivy
symbolized places God had walked. Feeding and clothing the poor
were also encouraged on the card's cover. Under the picture was
written "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you."
Printed in an edition of 1,000, Horsley's card was sold in London
stores. Only one of those cards exists today.
Two reasons for the initial popularity of Christmas cards are given.
The custom may have caught on because greetings could be mailed
for a penny each in 1843, London. The other reason is attributed
to a scandal with Horsley's design. A family, surrounded with religious
symbols, holding glasses of wine, offended some. The controversy
is thought to have helped promote Cole's idea.
How have Christmas cards changed to reflect trends and traditions?
In the late 19th century, cards were lavish, but didn't have the
religious symbols present on either the original cards or the cards
of today. The turn-of-the century saw European Christmas postcards
that remained popular for the next 10 years.
Hand-painted cards, heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement
were popular during the 1920s.
The Depression and the 1930s brought cards making fun of poverty
and prohibition. The popularity of animated films brought characters
like Popeye and Mickey Mouse onto
cards for the first time.
A surge in Christmas cards came in the 1940s. During the World
War II, friends and family, far away fighting, received cards with
patriotic messages and symbols, like Uncle Sam. New technology allowed
for more vivid cards.
The 1950s introduced humor. Santa was pictured as a couch
potato watching television on one card. On a card whose message
was "Peace on Earth," Santa had nuclear missiles over
Untraditional cards took center stage in the 1960s, as Santa was
poked fun at and peace symbols appeared on many cards. New inventions
allowed cards to feature embossing
and gold foil.
The 1970s had an athletic Santa to reflect the public's physical
fitness obsession. The United States'
bicentennial also factored into Christmas
cards with nostalgic art, like that
of Norman Rockwell. Religious cards also saw resurgence
with the decades born again Christians.
Sophistication was big in the 1980's.
The larger numbers of women in business led to more feminine designs.
The cards took on the appearance of fine art as technology improved.
As the public continued its thinness craze, pictures on cards showed
a thinner Santa.
Traditionalism came back, to some extent, in the 1990s. Cards
featured snow-covered landscapes, wreaths and Christmas trees. Messages
promoting environmental concerns were also produced. Personalized
cards done on computers reflected the customization trend.
The year 2000 relied on technology. Many card buyers used the
Internet to order and send their Christmas cards, preventing the
need to personally touch an envelope. However, those into tradition
could still buy and mail their own cards.