A Christmas card is a traditional greeting sent at Christmas time to convey good wishes between people. Christmas cards are usually exchanged in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day by many people in Western society and also in Asia. The most traditional greeting reads “Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”, but there are many variations of greetings, some expressing religious sentiment while others stay away from religion with a simple and all-inclusive “Season’s greetings”.
Christmas cards can be commercially designed and purchased for the occasion or some people like to make their own. The design might relate directly to the Christmas narrative with depictions of the Nativity of Jesus, or have Christian symbols such as the Star of Bethlehem or a white dove representing both the Holy Spirit and Peace. Many Christmas cards show Christmas traditions, such as seasonal figures like Santa Claus, snowmen or reindeer; objects associated with Christmas like candles, holly, baubles and Christmas trees; and Christmas activities such as shopping, caroling and partying. Some cards depict wintery scenes of snow and wildlife; some depict nostalgic scenes of the past like 19th century streetscapes; others can be humorous, particularly in depicting the antics of Santa and his elves.
The first Christmas cards were illustrated by John Callcott Horsley in London on the 1st of May 1843 for Henry Cole. The picture, of a family with a small child drinking wine together, proved controversial, but the idea made shrewd business sense. Henry Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post three years earlier. Over 2000 cards were printed and sold for a shilling each that year.
Early English cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, instead favoring flowers, fairies and other fanciful designs that reminded the recipient of the approach of spring. Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were also popular.
The production of Christmas cards throughout the 20th century was a profitable business for many stationery manufacturers. The design of cards continually evolved and changed with changing tastes and printing techniques. The World Wars brought cards with patriotic themes. Idiosyncratic “studio cards” with cartoon illustrations and sometimes risque humor caught on in the 1950s. Nostalgic, sentimental, and religious images have continued in popularity, and, in the 21st century, reproductions of Victorian and Edwardian cards are easy to obtain.
Even though the writing of letters has decreased dramatically with the introduction of email and text messaging so far Christmas cards have retained their popularity.
Wishing you a ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’!
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