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Christmas Cards Past And Present, From Victorian London To Today

Updated on December 8, 2012

No Christmas Cards?

The Christmas cards we send to celebrate Christmas are a long standing tradition - or are they? How far back does this particular Christmas custom go? The fact is, up until a relatively recent 1843, there was no such thing as a Christmas card.

The First Christmas Cards

The first Christmas cards were thought of by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. To go on the front of it, he commissioned an illustration from illustrator John Callcott Horsley. (As seen here.) It was a smart move, and probably financially motivated. Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post three years earlier, and his idea capitalized on the new service. More than two thousand cards were printed and sold for a shilling each in that first year.

In 1875 Louis Prang became the first printer to offer cards in America, from his lithographic printing firm in Boston.The popularity of his cards led to other printers making cheap imitations which eventually priced him out of the market, as the practice caught on.

Religious or Secular?

The Christmas cards most of us send are usually commercially designed. The design may relate to the Christmas story, depicting, for example, the Nativity, or show Christian symbols, like the star of Bethlehem, or a dove of peace.

Other Christmas cards use secular imagery, such as seasonal figures like snowmen, or reindeer. Traditional seasonal pastimes are also favourite subjects, along with candles, holly, Christmas decorations, and other objects associated with the season. The past is a favourite theme, with somewhat Dickensian views of Victorian shoppers in 19th century streets.

Make Your Own!

Since the custom began, many people have chosen to make their own Christmas cards, and a personalized greeting card is a great way to send your best wishes to friends or family members. Rightly or wrongly, it argues that you put more care and attention into the message you send.

You can get hold of greeting cards blanks at stationery stores and use card making supplies to personalize them. Seasonal hint: It's a great way to keep children quiet for an hour, if you don't mind trading a little mess and spilt glue for some peace. Put some old newspaper down in the danger zone, give them some glitter and paper stars, then stand well back and let them create.

Your Own Professional Efforts...

Or, if you have a PC and a colour printer, use some of the card making software that's on the market now and get busy making your own professional looking efforts. You could make and send cards with portraits of you, your children, the family pets, or the whole family. There are tutorials online, just a Google search away.

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