A Fascinating History of Christmas Cards
As with trees, candles and confectionary, it was the Victorians who introduced the time-honored tradition of sending cards to friends and family at Christmas time.
How did it begin?
Before cards were exchanged, woodprints and etchings depicting important religious scenes had been shared at Christmas since the Middle Ages. Created by carving an image onto a wooden or metal plate, they were intricate and time consuming to create.
When Sir Henry Cole commissioned artist John Callcott Horsley to design the first Christmas card in 1843, the concept was disapproved of by those who believed its imagery wasn't in keeping with the season's religious focus. Nevertheless, a thousand were printed then sold at his shop for one shilling each (a high price for the time) and the tradition was born.
Until 1840, postage was too expensive for most, but thanks to the introduction of the penny post on January 10, cards became more accessible. After that the practice rapidly increased with 11.5 million cards being produced in 1880 alone.
Although photography emerged in the 1830s, due to the expense of the medium it wasn't used to make cards until much later. Even then coloured images could only be created by hand painting the black and white prints, hence the limited colour palette.
Why do we often see snowy scenes on cards?
In the winter of 1836 there was extremely heavy snowfall followed by similarly white winters in the 1840s and 50s. As a result Christmas cards depicting snow scenes became fashionable in the late Victorian period.
What about Father Christmas?
Father Christmas, or some version of him, has existed since the 3rd century. Until the 1930s, he was depicted in blue and green as well as red. It wasn't until an advertising campaign by a certain red themed drinks company that he became exclusively crimson suited.
And what's the symbolism of holly and ivy?
Historically evergreen plants like holly, ivy and mistletoe were the only means of brightening up less affluent homes during the dark winter months. This tradition was and still is reflected in Christmas cards as depicted here in an illustration by Flower Fairy creator Cicely Mary Barker in 1926.
Why do we associate robins with Christmas time?
People nicknamed Royal Mail postmen "robin redbreasts" owing to the red waistcoats they wore from the mid 1800s. During this time, robins began to appear on Christmas cards as symbols of the men who delivered them.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.