Do people still send Christmas cards? Surely the digital age has rendered at least their physical versions obsolete with the advent of the internet, e-mail, and e-cards?
The funny thing is that Christmas cards were originally invented for precisely the same reasons: comfort and ease.
Take a trip through history as we learn about the evolution (or perhaps we should say revolution) behind a seemingly ordinary form of correspondence.
Interestingly, the very first recorded use of the term “Merry Christmas” can be traced back to a letter from 1534, while what could be thought of as an early precursor to the modern Christmas card was sent to King James I of England in 1611.
This was actually a sort of large ornamental manuscript folded into panels and decorated with a rose at its centre. A message wishing the monarch Christmas and New Year greetings was written into and around the rose, and was also accompanied with four poems and a song. Quite grand by today’s standards!
A VICTORIAN IDEA
Apparently, Queen Victoria sent the first official Christmas card. However, it was Sir Henry Cole who came up with the innovative method of time-saving correspondence.
Cole was a British civil servant, credited with commissioning the first commercial, mass-produced Christmas card back in 1843. At the time, he was an assistant to Sir Rowland Hill, both of whom helped to introduce the “Penny Post”, which ensured that ordinary citizens could afford postage.
Previously, only the rich could afford to send things by post, but the penny stamp, together with industrialisation (new railways and faster trains could carry greater quantities of post for cheaper rates), meant that there was now a fair public postal system for everyone. This was an opportune development, as urbanisation meant that families started moving away from the countryside to cities, and maintaining contact with family members became even more essential.
Together with artist John Horsley, Cole came up with the idea of responding to holiday correspondence en masse (Victorian rules of etiquette stipulated that it was impolite not to reply to a letter) by designing and producing a triptych. This consisted of three panels, with the outer ones displaying acts of charity, while the centre image showed a festive gathering at a holiday dinner. The card also included a generic greeting and spaces where the sender could write their name and that of the recipient.
Cole and Horsley printed and sold 1000 of these lithographic cards for one shilling, which was quite a lot of money at the time!
A WORLDWIDE CRAZE
By 1900, the custom of sending Christmas cards had spread from England to other parts of Europe, especially Germany. English Christmas cards displayed typically English scenes, such as renditions of the nativity, robins, and snow-covered landscapes.
However, even in the late 1880s, America was already starting to get involved. Louis Prang, a Prussian printer in Boston, Massachusetts, began mass-producing cards at more affordable prices. He moved away from English scenes, instead showing things like flowers and plants.
In 1915, the Hall brothers started from humble beginnings, bought an engraving business, and created what would eventually become the famous Hallmark Cards brand! They noticed that customers wanted more space to write on in their cards than a postcard would allow, so they enlarged the format and folded it in half, creating the cards we all know today.
At the same time, in the 1910s and 20s, the fad of homemade cards started to make its way onto the scene. Prang’s cards were still expensive for some as their production consisted of lots of colours and other embellishments. As a result, and to also make an avant-garde statement against commercialism, 20th-century amateur artists chose to make their own.
These had original shapes and designs, often containing foil and ribbon. Due to their delicate nature, these cards were too fragile to be sent by post, so hand-delivering them made it an even more personal gesture.
The early 2000s saw a rise in memory-keeping, such as through scrapbooking and other such crafts. It seems that we’re resorting to older methods to help us slow down and appreciate ordinary things in such a fast-paced world.
Since digitisation has made everything so affordable, families can now print out their own photoshoots and experiment with making personalised cards using relatively cheap online services. It’s fun for the whole family!
SEND A PHYSICAL CHRISTMAS CARD THIS YEAR!
The fact remains that, even with all the gadgets and gizmos at our disposal making our lives so much simpler and more efficient, there’s a tactile nature to Christmas cards that we still cling to. For the same reasons that digital books are nowhere close to outselling their physical counterparts, we love paper! It’s personal and real, especially with the addition of handwriting. If nothing else, it shows that a person’s gone through the effort of thinking, writing, stamping, and popping it into the mailbox.
At the same time, you’ll be supporting your local postal system, which often participates in charities through the stamps and stickers they sell. And speaking of charities, We Are Not A Shop’s endeavours are altruistic in and of themselves!
If you’re still a fan of sending handwritten Christmas cards, then you should read our blog post on the advantages of maintaining your handwriting in a digital age!
Also be sure to check out the wide range of Christmas cards and tags available at We Are Not A Shop that didn’t make it into this post!