Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Tradition of Christmas Cards

by Suzie Johnson
I feel safe saying that most of the Inkies and friends of the Inkies are huge Queen Victoria fans. I'm fairly certain most of you also know Queen Victoria and her husband, Albert, are responsible for most of our Christmas traditions. For those of you out there like me - I didn't know it either, but it's true. Trust me.

Both Victoria's husband and mother were German. And so, years before it became popular, the royal family had trees brought inside during Christmas. But it wasn't until an engraving of the royal family with their Christmas tree was publicized in 1848 that the German tradition became a world-wide phenomenon.

Candles, decorations and gifts soon followed the Christmas tree as popular traditions. Benevolence; giving to the poor and helping others also became popularized by Albert and Victoria.

Earlier another German tradition, exchanging Christmas cards, was encouraged by Albert and became slowly popularized after a postal service improvement known as the Penny Post, a less expensive way to send missives. Queen Victoria was the first member of the royal family to send out Christmas cards, with the first being sent in 1842.

The first commercially printed card was designed in 1843 by John Calcott Horsely. Due to the high cost of producing the cards, usually only those in the middle and upper classes could purchase cards and send them out. But the idea of Christmas cards was a popular one, and homemade cards were less expensive and much more fun. Even Albert and Victoria encouraged their children to make Christmas cards.

As a child, I loved Christmas cards. Watching for the mailman, running to the mailbox and pulling down the door were as much a tradition for me as sitting with all the cards, trying to read the handwriting and studying each and every school picture I found tucked inside. I didn't know who most of those children in the pictures were, but they sure sparked my imagination.

My favorite cards were from my grandmother, who always remembered to put two sticks of fruit striped gum in the envelope - one for me and one for my sister.

Sadly, the tradition of printed cards seems to be dwindling due to the popularity of e-cards. E-cards are cute, and fun, and some of them are absolute works of art. But sometimes I'm saddened by the ever fading Christmas cards. Like many women today, finding time for writing notes and addressing the cards is hard, if not impossible, for me.

I miss those handwritten notes on the inside, glittery Victorian scenes on the front, and school pictures that fall onto the table when the cards are opened.

Do you still send out Christmas cards? Do you send e-cards, printed cards, or newsletters?

Suzie Johnson’s debut novel, No Substitute, a contemporary inspirational novel, is out now from White Rose Press of The Pelican Book Group. She is a regular contributor to the Inkwell Inspirations blog, a member of ACFW, RWA, and is the cancer registrar at her local hospital. Suzie and her husband are the parents of a wonderful grown son who makes them proud every day – even though he lives way too far away. Suzie and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest with their naughty little cat on an island that is definitely not tropical. You can visit her at: http://www.susandianejohnson.com

BBC Berkshire: Queen Victoria Popularised Our Christmas Traditions by Emily Midgley, 12/15/2010
BBC Too: Make Your Own Victorian Christmas
Queen Victoria, A Biographical Companion by Helen Rappaport, 2003


  1. I do feel like it's a treat to get real cards now, though I don't send them myself. Photo cards are wonderful. I'm glad that it's easier to get those done nowadays.

    I think the typical Christmas card also keeps us stuck in the Victorian/ New England ideal of Christmas with snow. Lovely, but it's nice to have a balance of Christ-as-baby scenes too.

    Growing up in the northeast I have to admit to wondering how people could feel Christmasy without snow!

    Thanks Suzie!

  2. we still get Christmas cards from friends and i feel guilty with each one because i'm awful at getting cards sent (i've given up). my mother in law still writes notes a couple times a week and sends them out to people (my husband gets a bi-weekly card from her). she says its easier now since most of her friends have died (she's in her mid 80s). still, i do like the old fashioned way of communicating, even if i'm the worst offender on NOT getting those notes sent out.

    i like learning something new everyday and today's post did just that. Thanks!!

  3. I still send out some Christmas cards although not as many as I used to. I also send electronic greetings to many friends too.
    I also still like to receive "real" mail and have made it a goal to send notes or cards on a more regular basis, not just at Christmas.

  4. Sorry ladies. I overslept this morning and have been doing and it's been a mad scramble ever since.

    Deb, interestingly, most of those early cards didn't depict religious scenes.

    DebH, I don't know if you're really the worst offender because I really thought I was.

    Elaine, I love your goal. I think it would be awesome if we all tried to send out at more cards. I misS shopping for them.

  5. Fun post, Suzie! I like what Deb said: receiving cards is indeed a treat. It's nice to know someone is thinking of you. Writing letters has become something of a lost art, which I think is sad.

    It's interesting how Christmas cards weren't religious when they first came into popularity! I wonder when depictions of Jesus on cards started?

  6. I did know a lot of our traditions started with Queen Victoria, but I didn't know cards was one of them.

    I do still send them, but I get very few in return. It's like a little treat to find one in the mail. :D

  7. I saw it somewhere, Susie, but I can't remember. I think it was around 1880s. I'll have to double check, so don't quote me. ;-)

    I agree, DeAnna, it is a treat! I do have a friend who sends cards all year. She always writes in them and decorates withppretty stickers. It's so awesome.

  8. I'm with you, Suzie. I miss the tradition of sending and receiving cards. Though I did send cards this year, but numbers have dwindled from 50 to 23 as many people have outright told me they no longer exchange so 'don't send me' this year. I really enjoyed this post!

  9. Hi Chris, thank you! I think I send an average of seven cards. Not very many at all. I'm going to try and do more next year.

  10. This is the first time in MANY years I haven't sent out cards and I'm feeling horribly guilty.
    A few years back I created DVDs for everyone on my card list with a photo slideshow, music, etc. of our family's year. That was fun. These days getting everyone in the same place at the same time is a challenge, so we haven't even done a group photo... maybe I'll send out Happy New Year cards/letters, or Valentine's Day, or Easter...

  11. Niki, that slideshow sounds really awesome. Way cool and unique. Why do we heap that guilt upon ourselves? You've been way busy. It'll be okay. I bet they'll love their Valentines.


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