It might not appear a very festive title, but is it truly time to say “rest in peace” to the tradition of Christmas cards? Fewer and fewer are landing through the doors each year, and it’s better for the environment, but are we truly ready to give them up for good?
It’s no secret that I love exchanging Christmas cards. That’s why I have so much fun organising my Christmas Card Swap each year! But the age-old Christmas tradition of exchanging cards with family and friends seems to be dying out for multiple reasons.
As we delve further into the month of December, I do hope that your mail has been filled with a few Christmas cards bringing tidings of good will and positivity with them. I love a good Christmas card. And I’m unfortunately one of those people that thinks the more glitter involved the better. Not very eco friendly of me, I know, but there’s just something so festive about it! This year, however, I swore to only buy eco friendly Christmas cards or use up the ones I already have in the house. So I will apologise now to anyone who’s received a strange card from me!
Each year, we keep our Christmas cards. It’s an easy way to remember who sent you one, or whether you need a fancier looking card for someone who sent you a beautiful one previously. Mum still has a card handmade by one of her friends from when we lived in Scotland (pre-2004!) because it was a beautiful card. Unfortunately that friend died young, so the card has developed another sentimental attachment. I also have a tendency to keep any birthday cards I receive – they’re all in a box and grouped from one year to the next. My Christmas cards are stored with my decorations each year, and I love to pull them out year after year to look back at them.
The History of Christmas Cards
People have been sending Christmas greetings to each other for hundreds of years, with the first recorded use of ‘Merry Christmas‘ being found in a letter sent in 1534. The first known item that looked a bit like Christmas cards as we know them was given to King James I of England in 1611. It was reportedly 84cm x 60cm and was folded into panels (it might have been folded so it could be carried around). It had a picture of a rose in the centre and a Christmas and New Year message to the King and his son was written into and around the rose.
The custom of sending Christmas cards, as we know them today, was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a senior civil servant who had helped set-up the new ‘Public Record Office’ (now known as the Post Office), where he was an Assistant Keeper, and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people.
The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, snow-scenes became popular because they reminded people of the very bad winter that happened in the UK in 1836. Since then we’ve been pining for a white Christmas!
Christmas cards appeared in the USA in the late 1840s, but were very expensive and most people couldn’t afford them. It 1875, a man named Louis Prang started mass producing cards so more people could afford to buy them. Mr Prang’s first cards featured flowers, plants, and children. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today!
Why Do I Send Cards
The handwritten Christmas card has slipped down our festive priorities, so much so that the Financial Times recently suggested we don’t send cards but give the money to charity instead. And while I understand the sentiment, why can we not write and send cards to the people that are important to us?
I come from a family of Christmas card writers. Mum sits with her address book, the way her mother does too. Dad isn’t all that fussed, but then are many man interested in writing cards and letters? Maybe that harps back to the times when women of society had nothing to do all day but pen letters… anyway, I digress. As always! But yes, cards have always been of importance to our family, and I’ve taken great delight in writing and posting my cards each year.
Writing a Christmas card can seem silly. What do you write? I mean, most already have the “Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” pre-written for you. And to be fair, most of the time I literally add the recipient’s name and my own and that’s it done. For friends who live further away, I do try to be more personal. And I always like to thank someone for taking part in my Christmas card swap if that’s how I got involved in sending them a card.
These days, of course, many of us stay in touch with family and friends through the wonders of our mobiles. Whether that be a text, Facebook message, Twitter DM, whatever. In a world that seems so connected through the internet, many of us let conversations lapse as we tire of being constantly in touch with everything. It’s for this reason that the writing of Christmas cards is the only time most of us actually sit down to compose a few sentences and commit them to card.
Last year, with many of us in multiple different levels of lock-downs, the messages were desperate and heartfelt verses of hope. We grasped at opportunities to hand deliver cards where possible. We made statements in them wishing for a better 2021, full of good health and opportunity. Some of us made promises to actually meet up in 2021 with those friends we haven’t seen in a long time. Mind you, my writing towards the end of the cards was certainly difficult to read. More so than usual. And that’s saying something!
This year there are more unknowns. Supply chain issues, availability of drivers and couriers (remind me again how this isn’t also linked to Brexit? I’ll wait), never mind the ever present threat of new variants and restrictions. There are umpteen reasons why the UK Postal Service may be under pressure this year, which is why writing and sending cards early in the season is important. In fact, my cards have all been sent out by now! Except for the few I can hand deliver this year.
It really doesn’t take long to add something personal to each of the cards you send out this year. It doesn’t have to be funny or smart, just sincere. Something you genuinely mean.
One thing to remember is, these Christmas cards are sent in the spirit of love and hope. We send out cards often not receiving one in return. I used to send one to an old dinner lady at my first primary school. When we moved back from Scotland, she sent me a Christmas card that first year with an update on all my friends and favourite teachers. I sent one back with an update on what life was like at my new, much bigger school. It became an annual tradition to sit and practice writing out my letter to her so it could then be written in perfect handwriting. Until 3 years ago when I sent my card and none came in return. I was saddened at this, because I assume she has died and no one can tell me. But these Christmas cards went for almost 14 years backwards and forwards. And truth be told I still feel strange not sending one to her.
So this year, let’s all take the time to write thoughtful messages on our Christmas cards. And send them into the world via snowy post-boxes, to make the world friendly again for just one time of the year. You never know, one small act of genuine kindness mightn’t mean a lot to you, but the world to someone who needs it.