The History of Christmas Cards
The sending of seasonal messages of goodwill is an ancient ritual which also had a practical basis. Isolated villages would send seasonal gifts to their neighbours to maintain good relationships in case they needed to turn to them when supplies ran short. In pagan Britain, good luck charms were exchanged at the winter solstice but it took a long time for the custom to evolve.
The start of greetings cards as we now know them began in the fourteenth century, with the advent of the wood-block printed New Year’s cards from Germany. Even though the greetings card had German origins, the modern day Christmas card is a quintessentially English invention.
The origin can be traced to December 1843 when Sir Henry Cole decided his hand written Christmas letters, sent annually to friends and family, was an inefficient use of his time. He commissioned artist J C Horsley to design a card with a message on it he could send to people. The card included the words A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You which has become the ‘standard’ Christmas card message. The card was so well received that in 1843, 1000 of the cards were produced for commercial sale at a shilling each – making it the first mass production Christmas card.
The practice of sending cards was aided in the UK by the Postal Act of 1840, which allowed a piece of mail to be sent anywhere in the UK for just one penny. With the growth of industry seeing people move from the countryside to towns, Christmas cards became increasingly popular to send back to friends and family. In 1870 the price of postage was lowered further enabling everyone to be able to afford to send cards and the tradition began in earnest.
The UK buys more greetings cards per person than any other nation, around 33 a year, with nearly a billion cards sent at Christmas. The greeting card industry is directly or indirectly responsible for the jobs of around 100,000 people in the UK including printers, paper companies, artists and retailers. As part of the process of designing our bespoke Christmas cards each year we work with many of these different people and industries.
You can shop our selection of Christmas cards, including those with the option of adding personalised greetings, here.