09 December 2011

9th December: Christmas Cards-Prepare to have a sore hand

I mentioned briefly in my 4th of December post about Christmas Cards, which you can read here: 4th December: The Christmas Chore. The last few nights I have been sitting with my parents watching TV (I know I have a very exciting life) and I've had my mum sitting down with piles and I mean piles of cards around her and a list the size of the dead sea scrolls.. The average person in Britain sends 50 Christmas cards each year, in my house its more like three times that.

Mummy Second Hand Rose moans on and on about doing them, whilst Daddy Second Hand Rose does the usual 'Why do you do so many? We hardly see these people, I'd only send ten at the most if it was me.' Like I said in my earlier post my Dad has not done one single Christmas Card since they have been married, 31 years ago. With only 15% of cards being bought  by men the situation in the Second Hand Rose household seems to be a regular occurrence across the country. What is our fascination with sending Christmas cards to people that we hardly see, or haven't seen for years. In the left side of the card it always says 'We must meet up in the New Year', yeah in my experience that never happens. The worst part and for me its the worst part of the whole Christmas that makes me want to just dive in a a box of Mr Kipling's Mince pies, is the annual newsletter. Oh My God, it always contains happy smiling tanned people on an exotic holiday, or the great news that little Aubrey has won a Chess Tournament.

The point is that if I wanted to know about your trek across India, I would have rung you up about it, or stalked you on Facebook. Don't get me wrong, it can be nice to receive them, especially from people that are the other side of the world, but I'd rather not be sent three pages to read about all the cake sales little Susie has done this year, I'd rather just eat cake thanks.

So where has the tradition of sending Christmas Cards come from? Well let me tell you my Christmas angels. The first Christmas commercial cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole who was a designer, inventor and was one of the founders of the Victorian and Albert Museum. He wanted to commission cards to be made saying 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year' on to send to his friends,very original. He initially ordered 1000 and the ones he didn't use he sold in his shop. His friend John Callcott Horsley did an illustration for the card, it was a picture of a family with small children drinking wine together, which proved controversial because the children were also drinking. At the time alcohol was deemed to be the devil by the Temperant group who were tea-total and demanded complete abstinence. Blimey, I bet they were a barrel of laughs. So they threw a hissy fit about the card because it was publicly promoting alcohol. Two batches, of 2,050 cards were printed and sold that year for a shilling each. Lucky them, we are stuck with £3 cards from Clinton's.

At the time cards rarely had winter or religious themes on them, they normally had flowers and fairies etc to remind people that spring is coming. There were sometimes cards with children on and humorous pictures of animals, sadly I don't think they had pictures of a cat in a teapot with his tale in the spout though. Cole was one of the men behind the Penny Post which was a postal system sending letters for a penny, which increased the sale of Christmas cards. A 1st class stamp is now 46p, tut tut tut Postman Pat.

By the early 1900's the custom had spread over Europe and had become very popular in Germany. The first Christmas card had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. Through the years the design of cards continued to change and get better due to new printing techniques and tastes changing. In the Victorian times cards had a robin theme to them and a snow-scene became popular, Postmen were also called 'Robbins' because of the red uniforms that they wore, they didn't have any wings though unfortunately.

At the start of the 1900's the Royal Mail had to deliver 11 million cards during the festive season, wow maybe it would have been good if the Postman did have wings. In 1915 John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, which made a lot of money out of the cards and they started mass producing them, so more people could afford them. This was also helped by the cost of posting a card dropping to half a penny in 1870.
During the World War cards began to have a patriotic theme to them, sometimes with cartoon illustrations. In the 1910s and 1920s, people started to make home made cards a.k.a 'stuck together by' cards. The country got creative making them unusual shapes and adding foil and ribbon to them. Blue Peter eat your heart out. The downside is that they were too delicate to send through the post so they had to be delivered by hand.

In1949 UNICEF launched their Christmas Card program which selects internationally known artists to produce a piece of artwork for the card. Since then a lot of charity's have got in on the act selling cards with a % of the money going to the charity.

Christmas cards continued to have either a religious theme an illustration with animals, a robin and snow or a jolly theme to them, with smiling snowmen, Father Christmas and happy idealistic children. As the years went on cards got more accurate and more defined. Now in 2011 you can get such a huge range of cards from Victorian and Edwardian styles, to glitzy and sentimental ones. We do have to thank Henry Cole though, if it wasn't for him we might still have to write Christmas letters to people, instead of just having to write their name and your own in the card with a few kisses.  The amount of Christmas cards sent has declined in the past few years due to e-cards. Its a shame because its nice to see an envelope on the mat with your name on it, hopefully without the newsletter.

Second Hand Rose


  1. The last Christmas card is so adorable :)

  2. Ah this was super interesting!! I love Christmas cards, but completely don't understand the 'we have to send one to her, even though we barely remember her name, haven't seen her in 12 years, and don't even know where she lives..' It's utterly bonkers! And those bloody annual newsletters! Whatever happened to a quick note or a phonecall? People are just so desperate to be A List, evidently! ;)

    A tip for anyone who's odd like me. Put your Christmas cards in the fridge for a few hours, they will feel divine when you take them out.


  3. I haven't sent a christmas card since I was in school ! Shocking !! I just send them to close family at Christmas..I'd love to have a long list to write out like when you thought of every class mates name !

  4. I never bloody know half the people who I have to send cards to, even family members we hardly see! I've wrote and delivered all mine :P



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