Here’s a rather interesting fact, did you know that at the beginning of the 19th century, people did not send nor receive Christmas cards? Nobody made them and it might have been considered a bit rude to send them as the receiver was the one who paid the postage! People felt differently when the post office began charging the sender instead and began writing Christmas letters. In 1843 the first Christmas card was sent by founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Sir Henry Cole. He wanted to surprise his friends with something a bit different than the standard Christmas letter…something more colourful and creative. He commissioned illustrator and designer John Callcott Horsley to design the card. The card was a bit controversial as it showed a family having a feast and raising a glass of wine in a toast including a young child. See below.
The sending of Christmas cards soon gained popularity and thousands of cards were sent by Queen Victoria herself. The cards were usually created by the sender. Many were gorgeously elaborated with gilding and lace. Some were even pop-ups or fold-outs or with tags to make things move. They were similar to Valentine’s as the drawings were depictions of cherubs and rosy-cheeked children and flowers and animals. There were lots of nature and country scenery. However, none of these early cards were religious in nature or depicted the true meaning of Christmas-the birth of Christ.
The first Christmas cards printed in North America were in the mid 1870’s by German immigrant and artist Louis Prang. He decided to start a business making these cards to export to England. Some of his cards had winter or country scenes others were simply of children, angels, birds or Father Christmas.
In 1873, Prang reproduced a Christmas Card that was autographed by Charles Dickens. I apologise as I don’t know which card specifically that is so if anyone knows please share. 🙂
The Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was published in 1833 but the author is unknown as the song had already been sung for hundreds of years. Christmas cards were sent to wish others a happy Christmas while this carol which was very popular with the Victorians is giving tidings (or news of) comfort and joy seemingly to encourage others. The song even gets a mention in Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. “…at the first sound of ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’, Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas day, To save us all from Satan's pow'r When we were gone astray; O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. From God our heavenly Father A blessed angel came. And unto certain shepherds Brought tidings of the same, How that in Bethlehem was born The Son of God by name: O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy O tidings of comfort and joy. "Fear not," then said the angel, "Let nothing you affright, This day is born a Savior, Of virtue, power, and might; So frequently to vanquish all The friends of Satan quite"; O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. The shepherds at those tidings Rejoiced much in mind, And left their flocks a-feeding, In tempest, storm, and wind, And went to Bethlehem straightway This blessed babe to find: O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. But when to Bethlehem they came, Whereat this infant lay They found him in a manger, Where oxen feed on hay; His mother Mary kneeling, Unto the Lord did pray: O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. Now to the Lord sing praises, All you within this place, And with true love and brotherhood Each other now embrace; This holy tide of Christmas All others doth deface:O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
Make Your Own Victorian Christmas card:
You don’t need to be a graphic artist or talented illustrator to make your own Christmas cards. You can cut out Victorian style prints or flowers or animals from magazines or printed off the internet to create a collage or decoupage card. You could even recycle old Christmas cards by simply cutting out parts of the images. Simply glue or paste the pieces in the style you want. Add paper lace doilies or ribbons or various haberdashery to the card to give it some pizazz. Below is a link from the BBC that shows one way to make a Christmas card for more technical help or inspiration.