Even in this age of social media posts and e-cards, there is nothing better than having your postman deliver a handwritten Christmas card to your door. There is something so personal about it, the message inside, the glittery design and the fact that the sender had to make an effort to walk to the post office to send it!

Have you ever wondered where the idea for the Christmas card originated? We thought we would take a festive look back in time to see where the traditional all began!

It is thought that the first form of Christmas card was given to King James 1 of England in 1611. It did not look as we would expect one to be today, but instead was more of a large folded manuscript, with a rose design in the centre and wishes of a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year inside. It contained much more written content than the modern day card too, with 4 poems and a song.

The first Christmas card that was sent as we know them today was in 1843, started in the UK by government worker Sir Henry Cole. He was responsible for setting up the Public Record Office, which we now know as the Post Office, so the connection makes perfect sense. Along with an artist friend called John Horsley, they designed cards with 3 panels that they sold for 1 shilling each. They included pictures of people caring for the poor, mixed with festive dinner celebrations. Customers could buy a penny stamp and send their card on the postal train, something that had previously only been available to those who were rich.

Gradually the printing methods improved and higher quality cards could be produced, with the added bonus of the penny stamp being reduced to only half a penny, so the Christmas card business began to increase in popularity. The card custom moved to Europe by the early 1900s and never looked back.

Many of the early Christmas cards featured a nativity scene, followed by snow scenes as a reminder of the very bad UK winter of 1836. Robins were also featured a great deal, partly as it is a British bird and partly that it represented the Robin Postmen, which is what post delivery men were nicknamed due their bright red uniforms.  

Christmas cards were quite slow to take off in America, due to them being highly priced. It was in 1875 that a printer who worked on the original card collection began to mass produce them and force a drop in the price to make them more readily available to the masses.

The tradition of sending Christmas cards has come a long way, with the designs and messages changing with the times. Many cards are funny as well as festive, with homemade cards a particular favourite, taking pride of place in our homes for the month of December every year. They allow us to reach out to those who we are unable to see often and give some people a little ray of hope as they see the cards landing on their welcome mat, to know that they have not been forgotten. A much more personal touch than simply opening an e-card.



Post By Kimberley Roderick