Christmas cards are tokens of friendship and good will and have become the means by which people and families keep in touch with those far away. The first Christmas card was made in 1843 by an English illustrator named John Calcott Horsely. A hand-colored lithograph, the card measured 5 1/8 by 3 1/4 inches. Five years later, in 1848, a second Christmas card was published. It was designed by W. M. Egley and measured 3 1/4 by 4 3/4 inches. Sending cards at Christmas became quite popular as substitutes for the traditional Christmas letter or personal visit in Europe and America during the next few years.
The first Christmas cards appeared in America in 1846, but they were expensive and not affordable for the masses. They became popular in the U. S. when, in 1875, a German emigrant printer, Louis Prang, started providing economical Christmas cards that everyone could buy. These first cards pictured flowers, plants, and children and contained simple greetings of the season. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers got into the card business when they established Hallmark Cards.
Before Christmas cards, the main greeting cards were Valentine and New Year's cards. In fact, many of the early Christmas cards were Valentine cards with Christmas sentiments. Many New Year's cards, the earliest known cards appearing around 1466, were combined Christmas/New Year's cards usually portraying the infant Jesus.
Later calendars were used to convey New Year's greetings. The earliest known New Year's calendars date from the early 1700s. About this time businesses started using New Years greetings to advertise their wares. Calling cards for the gentry were also printed with Christmas sentiments.
A study of Christmas cards of the past is a study of history as they reflect the times in which they were created. In the 1920s, Christmas cards showed stylish flappers, good times, and roadster-driving Santas. Cards of the 1930s spoofed the poverty and made light of the bad times that the Great Depression brought on while looking forward to better times. War and patriotism characterized the cards of the 1940s. In the 1950s Santa was seen relaxing in front of a television set or flying around the world in a space rocket while thoughts of the Cold War loomed in the background. The 1960s and 1970s brought images of peace and brotherhood as seen by the frequent use of doves, flower children, and youngsters joining hands around the world. The 1980s and 1990s saw pictures of silent, snowy scenes of Anywhere, USA and a return to more traditional themes and nostalgic looks at past Christmases. Since the year 2000 more people opted to personalize their cards adding favorite family photos to their season's greetings.
Christmas cards have truly become a custom of Christmas. Whether it is businesses sending business Christmas cards or individuals sending personal cards, nearly 3 billion Christmas cards will be sent through the U. S. Post Office alone, not counting the ones sent via the internet. So get out your pens, flex your tired fingers, and think, "Who have I forgotten this year?"