9 Fun Facts About Christmas Cards that You May Not Know
The sending of Christmas cards is a longstanding festive tradition that originated in the U.K., but has since spread all around the globe. You’d struggle to find anyone who doesn’t love giving and receiving cards during the holiday season! Some people take a great deal of care to select the perfect one – even going so far as to make them by hand, or creating their own custom designs using a photo upload Christmas card template.
However, how much do you actually know about Christmas cards? Do you know, for example, when the first ever Christmas card was sent (and to whom), or what the first ever commercially-printed cards looked like, or how robins became an iconic sight on Christmas card designs?
We’ve made a list of nine fascinatingly fun facts about Christmas cards that you may not know. You may be surprised by some of them! You could even surprise your friends and family you’re your new-found Christmas card knowledge by including a fun fact inside your personalised Christmas cards this year.
1. When Was the First Christmas Card Sent?
Where did the idea of the Christmas card even come from? The first Christmas cards on record were sent out sometime in 1611 by Michael Maier, a German physicist, who sent the card to James I of England. However, the first commercial Christmas cards weren’t actually sent out until a couple of centuries later.
Sir Henry Cole, who was a civil servant at the time, came up with an idea for a commercial Christmas card, then commissioned John Horsley to design this card. Horsley, who was an artist friend of Cole, designed a card that would help credit the pair for inventing the modern Christmas card back in 1843. Nearly 1,000 cards were sold, for about a shilling each.
The original card had three panels, depicting three generations of Cole’s family. The family was raising a toast within the centre panel. The side panels were hand-painted, surrounded by a gorgeous decorative trellis. The trellis was intended to depict acts of giving while adding aesthetic appeal to the card. The theme of this Christmas card was both celebration and the importance of charity.
2. Who Was Henry Cole?
As previously mentioned, Sir Henry Cole and his artist friend John Horsley were credited for inventing the modern Christmas card. But who was Henry Cole and why did he decide the world needed Christmas cards?
Sir Henry Cole was a prominent man who was a civil servant, inventor, and educator. He would also go on to be the first director for the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Cole played a significant role in the British postal networks reforms as well as setting up what was known as the Uniform “Penny Post”. The Penny Post would encourage people of all classes to mail out letters, and it would only cost them a penny. This was very helpful in reforming the Royal Mail.
During Christmas time, his family was incredibly busy and this led to a lot of unanswered mail being left to pile up in his home. This is when he decided that there needed to be a better solution: the Christmas card.
3. What Did the First Christmas Cards Look Like?
The early concepts for Christmas cards were heavily influenced by Valentines, which often featured that iconic paper lace design that we see today. The Christmas cards that were produced in the Victorian era were widely considered to be both tasteful and expensive, with the cards being exchanged, displayed, and the collected in large quantities. It was during this Victorian period that the iconography of Christmas that we know today was created.
These cards featured imagery including:
• Evergreen trees
• Snowy landscapes
• Robins and other birds – including dead songbirds, which were thought to be lucky
• Anthropomorphic animals wearing human clothing
Later, these designs would depict people and families decorating Christmas trees, having a grand Christmas dinner, and the Victorian era’s invention of the Christmas crackers.
4. When Did Christmas Cards First Become Popular?
You would think that Christmas cards would have been an immediate hit. After all, they had the ability to quickly convey a personal message of Christmas wishes, without taking the time to write a long letter. You didn’t even necessarily need to be able to write at all, so long as you could sign your name, and could find someone to address the envelope for you!
But there were a few issues with Christmas cards to begin with, which meant they weren’t immediately popular. First of all, they were more expensive than what the average worker could afford at the time. And the very first Christmas card design didn’t go over well with the general public, because it depicted children drinking wine.
In the 1840s, when the aforementioned “penny post” system was set up, Christmas cards became a lot more affordable. This is also when the first mass-produced designs began being sold, and also when the Royal Family started commissioning and sending their own Christmas cards – sparking interest in them across the country.
5. When Did Christmas Cards Arrive in the United States?
The first Christmas card in the United States didn’t appear until 1875, a few decades after their appearance in England. A German immigrant by the name of Louis Prang had a print shop close to Boston and he is the person credited for creating the first Christmas card in the United States.
The cards created by Prang were quite different than what Horsley and Cole created decades earlier, particularly because it didn’t actually feature any Christmas imagery.
Instead, the card was comprised of a painting of a flower, which just read “Merry Christmas”. This was a simple and subtle approach to Christmas cards, which ended up defining early Christmas cards in the United States. The reason for this simple design is because it was easier to mass-produce them, which meant that more people could buy the cards.
6. When Did Modern Christmas Cards First Appear?
It took until early in the 20th century before the Christmas cards that we know today began to emerge. These early 1900s Christmas cards were just like the ones that we see today – a piece of strong cardstock with a fold down the middle of the card, and an envelope to go with it.
Due to how frustrated they were with the previous designs of Christmas cards, the Hall Brothers created the design with the fold in the middle. They wanted to be able to write everything that they wanted to inside the card, and they didn’t have that ability.
These brothers, who later became known as Hallmark, created this new style of card which is still the popular choice today.
7. Why Do Robins Feature on Christmas Cards?
As previously mentioned, robins were commonly depicted on early Christmas cards. They still heavily feature on Christmas card designs today. If you look out for traditional Christmas cards featuring snowy landscapes, you’ll notice that robins appear on many of them.
But you may be wondering: why robins? Well, robins are of course a well-loved winter bird, and so are naturally associated with the festive season. But there’s also a second reason. Back in the 19th century, British postmen wore bright red uniforms. They became known as “robins” as a result of their uniforms, and would deliver Christmas cards right on Christmas Day in the UK.
This is why robins became such a popular motif in early Christmas cards. They were commonly depicted as sitting atop post boxes.
8. What Happens to Christmas Cards After the Holiday Season?
Most people, after the Christmas season is over and they begin taking down their festive decorations, will simply throw their Christmas cards away. Fortunately, most gloss and matte Christmas cards are recyclable in your household cardboard or paper bin – only designs featuring foil or glitter have to be thrown in landfill.
But what you may not know is that there is a conservation charity known as Woodland Trust, which collects and recycles Christmas cards. It is estimated that they have recycled over 600 million Christmas cards to date, and also planted over 140,000 trees. The goal is to offset some of the resources used to create these Christmas cards that people love so much. This is the carbon emission equivalent of removing over 5,000 cars from driving on the road!
9. How Can Buying Christmas Cards Help People in Need?
Christmas cards are a popular festive custom with a rich history. The cards themselves have evolved over time, with different designs and finishes being developed, including contemporary and digital art designs. But the act of sending Christmas cards have remained a strong and unwavering part of British Christmas tradition.
Did you know, however, that you can help support people in need by purchasing Christmas cards? If you place an order with Charity Christmas Cards, you’ll be helping to support local charities with every card you buy. We directly donate a portion of the proceeds from each order, and thanks to this, we have raised over £10 million for charity in the past three decades. We’ve worked with hundreds of U.K. charities over the years – you can select the specific cause you’d like to support from a drop-down menu while personalising your card.
We have a huge selection of Christmas cards, ranging from traditional illustrations to contemporary modern art and even corporate designs. Every card we offer can be fully customised with your own wording inside, and will be delivered to your door complete with envelopes!