by Anna Kathryn Lanier
Last week I signed, addressed and sent out my Christmas Cards. For me, that was a little late. I’ve been known to have my cards in the mail December 1st. This year, I had to wait for the photo cards of my grandkids to come in before I could send them out. Doing the cards got me to thinking about the history of Christmas Cards. So I did a little research for Sweethearts of the West Holiday posts.
In the early 1800’s, personal greetings to family and friends were becoming the vogue in both England and America. People sent out hand-written Christmas wishes. By 1822, homemade cards were the bane of the U.S. Post Office. The post master general complained of having to hire sixteen extra mailmen to handle the increase of mail during the holiday season. He petitioned Congress to limit the exchange of holiday cards, fearful of bottlenecks they might cause. “I can’t know,” he said, “what we’ll do if this keeps up.”
By the 1840’s the custom was well established. The first card was designed in England in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, who decided to try something new that year. He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley to illustrate a 3-panel scene. One scene in particular raised a fuss with the Puritans, as it depicted a family raising glasses in good cheer. “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You” was embossed across it. Of the 1,000 commissioned by Cole, only a handful remain today.
In spite of the lack of enthusiasm by the general public over Cole’s card, the idea did catch on. Perhaps the public was tired of making their own cards. In 1844, more than 25,000 holiday cards were sold in England. The fad crossed The Pond and the exchange of Christmas cards became popular in America as well. However, for 30 years, the U.S. had to import their Christmas cards from Europe. In the 1850’s, German immigrant Louis Prang opened a lithograph shop in Boston. In 1875, Prang published the first Christmas cards, which featured birds and flowers instead of the traditional holiday scenes usually associated with Christmas cards today. By 1881, he was producing more than 5 million cards a year.
· A surge of Christmas Cards were sent in the 1940’s as family and friends sent cards to far-flung military personal fighting throughout the world during WWII.
· Organizations took up using Christmas cards as a way to raise money. The most famous is UNICEF, who began their program in 1949. St. Jude’s Ranch in Arizona is another well-known non-profit who uses Christmas cards as a fund raiser (they recycle cards, so a good place to send yours).
· More than 2 billion cards were mailed in the U.S. last year…think the post master imagined THAT number of cards?
Be sure and visit my blog, www.annakatherlanier.blogspot.com for daily recipes for holiday goodies!
Anna Kathryn Lanier