It is estimated that around 900 million Christmas cards are sent in the UK each year. Perhaps even more mind-boggling is the fact that 45% of all of greeting cards sent in the UK are Christmas cards. So, with the arrival of new age technology, why are Christmas cards still going strong, even now?
To answer this question, we must first delve into the history of the world’s very first Christmas card - a card which was sent all the way back in 1611 by Michael Maier, a German Physician, to James I of England and his son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales.
It read: "A greeting on the birthday of the Sacred King, to the most worshipful and energetic lord and most eminent James, King of Great Britain and Ireland, and Defender of the true faith, with a gesture of joyful celebration of the Birthday of the Lord, in most joy and fortune, we enter into the new auspicious year 1612".
This would set the scene for the UK starting a European and soon global trend in the sending and receiving of Christmas cards.
Commercial Christmas Cards
The world’s first commercially produced Christmas card was designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843. The picture showed a family raising a toast to the card's recipient and on either side were scenes of charity, with food and clothing being given to the poor. That year, two batches totaling 2,050 cards were printed and sold for a shilling each.
Surprisingly, earlier British cards rarely ever showed religious themes, or even themes associated with winter. In fact, it was the approach of springtime that was favoured, with flowers and fanciful designs proving popular due to their association with the beauty of bloom.
Until the 1840’s, sending cards was a difficult and expensive task - but with the introduction of the ‘penny post’, public postal deliveries began. Later in the 1870’s the halfpenny stamp was introduced, allowing the sending of cards to become affordable for almost anyone.
Crazy Victorian Christmas Cards
The Victorian idea of Christmas was somewhat different to the idea we have today. Today we feature cards that almost exclusively revolve around happy, festive themes. However, the Victorians had a much more humorous and macabre view of Christmas.
Whilst they did have cards similar to what we see today, to them the holidays were less about the religion, and clearly more about humour. It isn’t out of the ordinary when searching for Victorian Christmas cards, to find children being boiled alive, dead birds and frogs along with demonic beings.
Historians say that this was in keeping with the Victorian sense of humour, with the holiday being a perfect time to express this. While they are a stretch from the concept of Christmas that we have in our society today, the weird and wonderful nature of Victorian macabre makes them a brilliant sight to behold.
Why are Christmas cards still so popular?
The answer, like many things, is buried in tradition. The rise in popularity of the Christmas card was also around the time of the introduction of pillar boxes, the wonderful red post boxes that we still see today. An increase in accessibility (cost and delivery) meant the concept surged.
After surviving many phases and moving through generations, the Christmas card has rooted itself not just in the UK, but also in other parts of the world, notably, Germany and the USA. Today they are an easy gift which allows personalisation and are a method for the sender to show the recipient that they care about them.
Charities use cards to raise money, and in the UK alone it is estimated that £50 million is raised every year for charities through the sale of Christmas cards. Couple that with the average household spending £14 on cards every year and you realise the demand is huge with no signs of slowing down.