Christmas cards, like any other greeting card, are meant to convey best wishes of the season, or offer sympathy in case of illness or other somber occasion. Cards such as these are often exchanged between people in Western countries, many other countries, and those in Asia. Often, they are given out by non-Christians as well as those who are Christians. Some cards have a biblical verse, some are fun, and there are cards for adults and children. Card makers consider Christmas as a major holiday event.
Season’s Greetings conveys a generic, even non-Christian greeting while some people like the traditional Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Many illustrations are used on Christmas cards, such as Winter scenes, the nativity, Santa Claus, Christmas presents, Peace, and even Christmas decorated palm trees or flamingoes in California and Florida! There are often reindeer, snowmen, holly, candles, fireplaces, baubles, as well as activities like shopping, partying or caroling available on cards, too.
Some cards, most likely ones with a cottage or church design or Santa Claus, have glitter on them. Other cards are fold outs and can be quite elaborate. Others are sold by the box in a whole range of sizes and quantities. Families enjoy taking a Christmas photo, which can include the dog, and using that on their annual Christmas card send out. Other cards carry old street scenes with windows all aglow, snowdrifts with a cottage nestled amongst the trees, or shopping for a Christmas tree.
Sir Henry Cole ordered the first Christmas cards in 1843, in London. Cole introduced the Penny Post 3 years before and this would increase revenue from that. Also, the cards were expensive for the time — a shilling. Often, early cards from Britain depicted religious or Winter themes, and not the flowers or fairies or birds of spring. Shaped and decorated cards became popular later in the century. Louis Prang was the first printer to have cards available in America, and this was in 1864. You can see one of his Christmas cards here, the one labeled 1864. Knockoffs eventually drove him from that lucrative market.
Elaborate cards from the Victorian age were driven off the market by postcards but they returned in the 1920s, with cards and envelopes. During and after the 2 world wars in the twentieth century, patriotic themes in many forms were popular. In our century, reproductions from the Victorian era regained popularity. Technology has resulted in the decline of printed Christmas cards. Email and phone contact is mostly responsible. Still, in the U.K., the originator of Christmas cards, over 668.9 million printed cards were sold in 2008.
Queen Victoria started with official Christmas cards in the 1840s. The first White House official card was put out by Eisenhower in 1953. Over one million, four hundred thousand White House cards were sent out in 2005. Businesses then and now use Christmas cards to promote their business or to thank customers for their following. Trade cards go way back to the eighteenth century and these are where our modern Christmas cards came from.
The UNICEF Christmas card program started in 1949. Artists from across the world have provided artwork for these fundraising cards. Charities often sell or give out Christmas stickers and stamps. Sometimes they’re sent out to many people, and a small percentage garner a donation. Official Christmas stamps are issued by lots of different countries and these seem to be popular, although some folks have leftovers and will use them up even six months after Christmas! Germany’s postal system gave millions of free scented stickers out to customers and their Christmas cards would have smelled like cinnamon, evergreens, a honey wax candle, gingerbread, oranges and even a baked apple!
With computers, people can design and even print wonderful Christmas cards on their computers. Some families like to make all of their cards by hand and children seem to love these card-making sessions. Handmade cards can be a gift in themselves and are often kept long after a commercially-printed one. There are a lot of card-printing and drawing programs available for most computers. Photographs taken by a person may be enhanced, even to look like a watercolor painting, and used on a Christmas card. Clip art is readily available, often for free, to decorate computer-made Christmas cards.
Collectable cards from the second half of the nineteenth century are highly prized. One of J.C. Horsley’s original cards sold for about $13,000 in 2005. Another card by Horsley fetched the most ever at an auction, when it was sold for around $30,000. Old Christmas cards can be useful when donated to charities, or art from scrap locations. One classic craft project is cutting card scenes out and creating a basket from them. Children can sew the cards together using yarn, and a blanket stitch works well.
In this millennium, more and more of us go to e-cards for our Christmas greeting needs. The trouble with that is you can’t save them in a pretty box, look at them years later, and hand them down to your grandchildren. Christmas cards may be becoming a lost tradition in their original form, but some will always be treasured and kept forever.