Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A History of Christmas Cards

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.

Fun Facts:

·         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, for daily recipes for holiday goodies!

Anna Kathryn Lanier



  1. Fun information about Christmas cards.

    I have always written a Christmas letter, the first ones allowed me to use my writing creativity composing poems about our year, and now they're still about our year but not so creative as I have other endeavors that need my creative wit.

    One year, I even drew and had printed my own cards with pigs and porcupines. Christmas cards are fun!

  2. I used to send Christmas letters from a mountain woman and they seemed to be well-received. I love to tape them to the back of one of the doors to be enjoyed for the season. Have a great reduction in cards this year. Guess people are too busy or the cost is too high.

    Merry Christmas to you all.

  3. Hi Anna,

    Loved the photos of the old-fashioned Christmas cards. Loved that the postmaster had to hire 16 extra employees.

  4. Great post! I'm one of those who hates sending Christmas cards and puts it off as long as I can. I also keep my list as small as possible to prevent hand cramping. lol

  5. Hi, ya'll! I love Christmas cards, getting them and sending them. Oh, Susan, I do address labels. And I've done letters in the past, but am too lazy. For the past few years, our cards have been pics of the grandkids.

  6. I own several vintage Christmas and Valentine's cards--gifts from a friend who once owned an antique store. These make pretty pictures to hang on the wall--a cut-out style format one a special one, with a vintage-looking frame--Go to Hobby Lobby!--and you have a wonderful treat for yourself...or as a gift.
    I enjoyed this so much.

  7. I used to write long letters to include in our cards. Over the years, the letters have gotten shorter, and the cards mailed later. This is the latest I've ever mailed them and I am still addressing them. Sigh. Thanks for the info on Christmas cards.

  8. Anna Kathryn - I loved your post, but have had the darndest time trying to comment on it. But I persevered!

    Anyway, for me Christmas Cards is a tradition that I cannot let fall by the wayside. There is nothing like getting 'real' mail, a letter or handwritten card -- especially during the holidays. To know that someone took the time to take pen in hand and write you. I like looking at the stamps, too! And from the cards and letters that have been saved and passed down to me from four generations, I think this tradition is in my blood. :)

    I still love sending and receiving them (now from all over the world!). For me, it's the next best thing to getting an in-person smile and hug.

    Thanks for sharing the history of Christmas Cards with us. ~ Ashley


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