Christmas Cards – Where Did They Come From?

Ever wonder how a tradition came to be?

I thought it would be fun to take a look into Christmas card past. Just curious, are you writing cards this year?

With this fast paced electronic world, the tradition of mailing out Christmas cards is slowing year by year, but there was a time when the cards one received could paper a wall! The cost of postage is literally tipping the scales in favor of e-cards and emailed Christmas letters, not to mention the time delay with mailing that we are just not used to anymore. I’m not standing in judgment of this choice, just expressing a melancholy acknowledgment of the shift that’s happening in our world of today…

Do you know the roots of the Christmas card tradition?

The first commercial Christmas card (below) was designed in 1843 by John Callcott Horsley.


Horsley was commissioned for the illustration by Sir Henry Cole, the first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The story:

Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends! At that time Christmas greetings were hand written notes, not cards, and this custom evolved from the days in England when young boys practiced their writing skills by creating Christmas greetings for their parents. See, everything has a story!

And so the Christmas greeting card was born, inscribed with ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.’

But did you know the illustrations of early English cards were not winter or religious themes? Interestingly, flowers, fairies, animals and other ornate designs were used as a reminder for the recipient of the approaching of spring!

Here you see the popular robin redbreast.


You will find this ornate 19th century Christmas card housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Commercial Christmas cards were introduced in 1874 to America by Louis Prang, an immigrant from Prussia with a background in textiles and printing. As a result, Prang is sometimes referred to as the ‘Father of the American Christmas card.’

Traditional American Christmas cards followed in the footsteps of Victorian style cards until the first souvenir postcard came on the scene in America in 1893.


This famous Louis Prang card is c. 1882.

The postcard phenomenon took hold, but by the 1920s  Christmas cards with envelopes had returned albeit with a different look from the original Victorian style. And this was as a result of changing tastes and evolving printing techniques.

But the changing face of illustrations on Christmas cards was also impacted by World War I…


And World War II…



One way to identify vintage American WWII Christmas Cards is by the colours used. You will see a combination of patriotic colours in the illustrations, and often patriotic images too.

This is another example of an American Christmas card from WWII…


In the American colours of red, white and blue!

And this card, the ‘Victory Card’ is post WWII.


You can still see a hint of Victorian influence in the child on St. Nicholas’ knee, but it’s the prominence of St. Nicholas himself that is the key to the shift in Christmas card illustrations that we see today.

And we have Coca-Cola to thank for that. The standardized version of the guy we now know as Jolly ole Saint Nick aka Santa Claus evolved from their series of illustrations for advertisements drawn by Haddon Sundblom over the course of years, 1931 – 1964, into the persona of Santa as we know him today.

This is just a random sampling of Coca-Cola Christmas cards with Sundblom illustrations ranging between 1945 to 1956.


This is a sampling of vintage Christmas cards from the 1940s and 50s.


A retro collection spanning the 1950s – 60s…


And a random vintage assortment from the 1940s – 60s.


And the rest they say, is history!

Do you remember any of these styles?

Isn’t it funny how Christmas cards evolved? Handwritten notes to folded cards with envelopes, the post card phase, and back to folded cards and envelopes. And now we’re circling back to personalized notes, but in the form of emailed Christmas letters. Of course, there’s also e-cards. But the irony is that time and convenience are at the heart of each change, the very place that Christmas cards began!

I love to receive Christmas cards in the mail, and look forward to incorporating them into my holiday decor. How about you? For me they are a symbolic reminder of the people in our life, that keeps them close in our thoughts even though they aren’t here.

I sincerely hope we don’t lose the tradition of mailing Christmas cards altogether, because I fear we will have lost a beautiful piece of our history to the convenience of modern technology. But that’s just me!

For where would I be without technology? I know my blog wouldn’t be possible! But… I’ll still be mailing my cards on December 1st.

It’s about coming home… If you want a remarkable space that tells your story, contact me to see how we can help!

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6 Replies to “Christmas Cards – Where Did They Come From?”

  1. I swear you can read my mind. I’ve gone back and forth about Christmas cards. A friend told me that she keeps all of her cards from year to year so that she can look back on how families have changed. I thought that was really cool. But everybody does a photo card anymore…which I understand. You want friends and family to see how your family has changed, but I feel like there is something new to explore or at least a different look to try. You’ve got my wheels turning as always…:)

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