One of the most heart­warm­ing parts of the fes­tive sea­son, send­ing cards to friends and fam­ily is a cus­tom that be­gan more than 150 years ago

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

One of the most heart­warm­ing tra­di­tions of the fes­tive sea­son, the send­ing of cards to friends and fam­ily is a cus­tom that be­gan more than 150 years ago

When Sir Henry Cole com­mis­sioned the artist John Call­cott Horsley to de­sign the first Christ­mas card, the con­cept was dis­ap­proved of by those who be­lieved that 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 at the time) and the tra­di­tion was born.

1910 Early ex­am­ple of a pho­to­graphic Christ­mas card

Pho­tog­ra­phy emerged in the 1830s but wasn’t used to make cards un­til much later. Even then, coloured images could only be cre­ated by hand­paint­ing black-and-white prints, hence the lim­ited pal­ette.

1911 Hoar­frost

In 1836, there was ex­tremely heavy snow­fall fol­lowed by sim­i­larly white win­ters in the 1840s and 50s. As a re­sult, Christ­mas cards with snow scenes started to be­come fash­ion­able as they are to this day.

1860 A robin perches on a win­dowsill

Un­til 1840, postage was too ex­pen­sive for most but, thanks to the in­tro­duc­tion of the penny post, cards be­came more ac­ces­si­ble. Af­ter that, the prac­tice rapidly in­creased, with 11.5 mil­lion cards be­ing pro­duced in 1880 alone.

Early 1900s Fa­ther Christ­mas

Some ver­sion of St Ni­cholas has ex­isted since the third cen­tury, and 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.

1926 The Holly Fairy

His­tor­i­cally, ev­er­green plants such as 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 Fairies creator Cicely Mary Barker in 1926.

1910 The vil­lage pub

As the prac­tice of card giv­ing grew, so did the pop­u­lar­ity of fes­tive im­agery por­tray­ing drink­ing, feast­ing and mer­ry­mak­ing, much to the con­ster­na­tion of the de­vout. Even this im­age of a visit to a coun­try pub may have been frowned upon.

1850s Re­li­gious etch­ing

Be­fore cards were ex­changed, wood­prints and etch­ings show­ing im­por­tant re­li­gious scenes had been shared at Christ­mas since the Mid­dle Ages. Time-con­sum­ing and in­tri­cate, they were cre­ated by carv­ing an im­age onto a wooden or metal plate.

1920s Chil­dren watch­ing birds in the snow

Peo­ple nick­named Royal Mail postmen “robin red­breasts” owing to the crim­son 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.

TOP This Vic­to­rian card from 1889 showed a can­dlelit church as a warm and wel­com­ing place of wor­ship

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