Sending out Christmas cards is such a wonderful tradition. How did this become such a common practice? Christmas greetings have been around for 100s of years and have certainly evolved into the beautiful and personalized cards you are sending out this season. The history of the Christmas card, or as it started, the Christmas Letter, is so fascinating and a great story to share at a holiday party.
The Original Christmas Letter
While this looked nothing like the Christmas card you have designed for friends and family this season, the original Christmas letter was sent in 1534. The first recorded use of “Merry Christmas” was in this letter written by John Fisher, an English Catholic Bishop, to Thomas Cromwell. How amazing to imagine creating such a traditional phrase used by many during the holidays!
“And this our Lord God send you a merry Christmas, and a comfortable, to your heart’s desire.” This professional greeting may not be in your layout this year, but it is a lovely note of encouragement that Fisher wrote for his dear friend. The look of the seasonal greeting has developed over the years, but the purpose of spreading love and holiday cheer has only grown.
The First Christmas Greeting
Over 70 years later, we see the Christmas card progress. Slowly getting closer to the Christmas card as we know it today, King James I of England received a “card” during the holidays in 1611. The term “card” should be used lightly here as this large manuscript was 33" x 24” and had to be folded into panels in order to be carried and hand delivered. The center panel included a beautiful rose with a letter of Christmas and New Year’s encouragement surrounding the image.
The design did not end with this elaborate note. Included with the card were four lovely poems and a song. This extravagant gesture was nothing short of fabulous and amazed the king with the intricate details. This luxurious design was certainly one of a kind back in the day and would be just as special to receive today.
Christmas Cards for the Ordinary
These gestures from the 16th and 17th century were beautiful, but Christmas cards were not sold in mass until 1843. Sir Henry Cole sent the very Christmas card that fits closer to our definition of a holiday card! He helped set up the Post Office and wondered how it could be used by more ordinary people. The concept of a seasonal card was an attempt to get increase the number of people sending mail!
Cole and his friend John Horsley (an artist!) printed holiday cards to be sold. They designed and sold these Christmas cards for 1 shilling (about 8 cents today!). The design of these cards had three panels that contained images of people caring for the poor and a large Christmas dinner. Selling these cards was advertised with the slogan, “Just published, a Christmas Congratulations Card; or picture emblematical of old English festivity to perpetuate kind recollections between dear friends.” This slogan sold about 1000 Christmas cards during the first year of production!
The Popularity of Christmas Cards Grows
As printing and shipping methods improved, Christmas cards grew in popularity. The cost of shipping dropped to half a penny, rapidly increasing the number of cards sold. This greeting became such a popular way to encourage your loved ones during the holidays. Sound familiar? Today we still love to spread joy during the Christmas season through a family Christmas card!
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, cards were typically not yet personalized. The cards being sent out were printed in large quantities and there were very common themes portrayed on these designs. Typically, layouts included a nativity scene to set the Christmas theme for their sweet greeting. During late Victorian times, a robin or snow-scene became very popular.
With this being said, the very first personalized Christmas card was created in 1891 by Annie Oakley. The star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show sent a holiday card from Scotland to her friends and family in the United States. She featured a photo of her on the card she personally designed and printed multiple of them at a local printer.
Christmas Cards in the United States
In the late 1840s, Christmas cards were introduced to the United States and most people could not afford them. They were either handmade or very few were printed at a time. Louis Prang, a printer, decided in 1875 to start mass producing cards to increase the availability in the US. A few years later, the very popular company Hallmark was created by John C. Hall and two of his brothers in 1915. They created Christmas cards, and now are still one of the largest card making companies today that print a variety of cards.
Christmas Cards in 2022
Christmas Cards have been around for centuries and have absolutely reinvented themselves over and over again! Today, personalized holiday cards are a tradition for so many families. These lovely designs include family photos and may include family updates from the past year. They also may highlight memories from the year or wish a Happy New Year as well. The opportunities with Christmas cards are limitless and the customization makes each card unique to your beautiful family!