My first Christmas card of the season arrived in the mail today, from my friend Jean. Every year without fail my first written greeting is either from Jean in Newfoundland or from Stuart and Audrey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The arrival of their cards is my signal that the Christmas season has officially begun. Even though I doubt my friends are aware of their importance to my holiday schedule, without their Best Wishes how would I know it was time to make a list and hit the stores. Thank you, my kind and organized friends.
Speaking of Christmas cards, have you ever paused to consider their history? Where did this tradition begin? When did it begin? What makes friends and family buy them or make them, address them and mail them? Has it changed much since its inception? Has it changed recently?
The website http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/cards.shtml , by James Cooper, tells us that the tradition of sending Christmas cards began in the United Kingdom in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who was interested in knowing how the new ‘Public Post Office’ could be used more by ordinary people. Sir Henry and his friend, artist John Horsley, designed the first cards and sold them for 1 shilling each. By about 1860, as printing methods improved and cards became more popular, they were produced in large numbers and by the early 1900s this custom spread to Europe.
Cooper’s article goes on to explain that Christmas cards appeared in the US in the late 1840s, although most people couldn’t afford to buy them. That all changed, however, in 1875 when Louis Prang started mass producing cards. Then in 1915, John C. Hall along with two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, a card maker which remains one of the biggest in the industry today.
So what about Canadians? The website http://agora.virtualmuseum.ca/edu/ViewLoitDa.do?method=preview&lang=EN&id=7070 says that the production of cards in Canada began between 1870 and 1880 and depicted typical winter activity or sports scenes, but that up until the end of the First World War, most of the cards sold in Canada came from the United Kingdom or the United States. Not so, today. Today the cards bought and mailed in Canada are often made here as well, either mass produced by major card companies or in limited editions by graphic artists.
Another trend today is hand-making Christmas cards to send to family and friends. A few years ago I jumped on this bandwagon; I enjoyed the hands-on aspect of making the cards: the texture and colour of the papers and cardstock, the inks used to stamp pictures or Holiday sayings on the cards and the ribbons, brads and eyelets I added to the cards to make them special. Even though I spent more money and hours making these cards than I would have spent buying them from a big-box store, I was pleased with the finished results, and I knew the family and friends I sent them to would also appreciate my efforts.
I didn’t send any Christmas cards last year and doubt I will send any this year. Last year my husband, Gary, died in mid December, and holiday cards were the last thing on my mind. This year the month of December is already one-quarter over and I have yet to start any holiday shopping, let alone buying or making, addressing and mailing holiday cards to send to friends and family members.
Jean’s card in today’s mail served as a reminder to me that others are celebrating this time of year, that others send cards, buy gifts, trim trees, and plan festive dinners for the twenty-fifth of the month even though I am finding it difficult to participate.
This year I will treasure the cards I receive, and will attempt to get through this holiday season the best I can. If you don’t hear from me this year in the form of a Christmas card stamped from Canada Post, please accept my wishes for a “Happy Holidays” to your family from mine!