religious Christmas greetings have been sent each year since the middle of the 19th century, with the first commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. With the development of the large scale printing press in the early 1800s, mass production of greeting cards was enabled. Greeting cards date back as far as the ancient Chinese civilisations who exchanged greetings in this way at Chinese New Year. Greeting cards have continued throughout various cultures since in different forms, but the modern greeting card developed in Europe in the middle part of the last millennium. Until the large scale printing press developed in England in the 1800s, greeting cards were mainly hand made or expensive. However, three years after Sir Henry Cole introduced the ‘penny post’, a cheap option of sending letters, he commissioned mass produced greeting cards and Christmas was the first occasion chosen.
What we think of as traditional Christmas Cards today, such as scenes of religion, snow covered backdrops or the homely Christmas scene of the tree by the fire were actually not common place among the early cards produced. They tended to be spring scenes of flowers and grand designs to bring people thought of the spring to come in later months, or comical drawings that were often quite risqué. Only after the introduction of Christmas Trees to England by Prince Albert and highly popular novels depicting the ‘idyllic’ Christmas scene, by authors such as Charles Dickens, later in the century did the traditional Christmas scene become a common image. However, religious references, particularly those of the nativity, angels and Saints, naturally became popularly quickly after the introduction of cheap, mass produced cards. The most popular Saint depicted has of course become Saint Nicholas, the bringer of presents. Early English Christmas Cards often depicted the character Father Christmas, the symbol of Christmas Spirit for many centuries. However, it was the merging of Father Christmas with the traditional idea of Saint Nicholas from other countries, such as the Netherlands’ Sinterklaas from which we get the term Santa Clause, used primarily in the USA to describe the Father Christmas Character, that the modern character became popular.
During the 20th century their popularity grew rapidly, with the use of ‘official’ Christmas Cards used by the English Royal Family and later the US President helping to make them an essential part of the greeting process during the Christmas Celebrations. Their use by businesses and charities also developed rapidly as a good opportunity to keep in touch with customers or members of an organisation, update them on events of the year and keep their organisation in mind into the New Year. Commercialisation of Christmas Cards inevitably took place in the latter part of the 20th century, with stationary companies looking to cash in on peoples willingness and desire to spend money during that period. It was quickly seen that the traditional greeting card was becoming more important to some people than presents again, as they offer the a more personal and often more meaningful way to pass on ones feelings of love and friendship.