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Home UK Christmas World Archive Christmas Traditions: The Giving Of Christmas Cards

Christmas Traditions: The Giving Of Christmas Cards

We are all familiar with the traditions at Christmas, decorating your home with lovely Christmas lights, decorating the Christmas tree, wrapping present and spending time with family and friends. Well there is one Christmas tradition that is somewhat overlooked yet year on year the greeting card industry thrives on the 2 or 3 weeks prior to Christmas.

Woman Smiling and Reading Christmas Card in front of Christmas Tree and Lights

The Christmas card was originally invented by Sir Henry Cole way back in 1843. It is believed that he was inspired to come up with the Christmas card by examples of Valentine’s Day cards, which had been popular in England. As well as it was customary for pupils in English schools to produce Christmas pieces. These usually were large sheets of paper which the pupils decorated with colourful borders and headings, and then inscribed with Christmas greetings in their best copperplate.

Cole commissioned artist J.C. Horsley to design the picture for his first card. The picture was based on the common medieval artistic device of a triptych which was a set of three illustrations. The central illustration was a jolly party of adults and children with plenty of food and drink. Underneath the picture was the greeting "Wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you". Each side panel represented good works such as the clothing of the naked and the feeding of the hungry.

man opening a christmas card

His idea did not catch on at the time it was not until about 20 years later that big stationery firms were producing thousands of Christmas cards and Cole's initial failure had become a tremendous success.


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