Christmas Cards

Written By Neil Van Oost Jr.

Christmas cards … I think everyone knows what a greeting card is, an illustrated piece of card or high quality paper featuring an expression of friendship or other sentiment, but did you know that  greeting cards were exchanged in ancient times by the Chinese and Egyptians. The Chinese  exchanged handmade messages of goodwill to one another for the New Year, they were brightly colored and designed to frighten away the monster Nian, who was a beast believed to live under the sea or in the mountains. The monster only came out around the time of Chinese New Year in the spring. Nian would attack everyone, but preferred children and was reported to have a sensitivity to loud noises and had a fear of the color red. The ancient Egyptians also used papyrus scrolls to send greetings and for record keeping.

As early as the 1400’s, the Germans were printing New Year greeting cards made from woodcuts and in Europe, sometime in the mid 1500’s, handmade paper Valentines were being exchanged, as this custom spread, it grew to also include Christmas greeting cards. In 1843, Sir Henry Coke, a British civil servant and inventor commissioned his friend John Callcott Horsley to design a Christmas card for that year. Horsley designed a triptych (Three paneled card), with the two side panels depicting clothing and feeding the poor, the center panel featured a party of adults and children, eating and drinking. The card bore the inscription “merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you.”, The word “Merry” at the time was a spiritual word meaning “blessed.”  Only about one thousand cards were printed and sold for six pence each. Today there are believed to be only three or four cards still in existence. One of Sir Henry’s first Christmas cards, sent to his Grandmother was recently sold at auction for  22,500 pounds (27,400 US dollars.)

In 1875, Louis Prang, a Boston based printer,  introduced the Christmas card to the American public, he is widely known as “The Father of the American Christmas Card.” More about him can be found on the Net at http://blog.nyhistory.org/prang/ .

Throughout the years since then, Christmas cards are sent worldwide, some are hand delivered, as they were in ancient times, some by various countries postal systems, and some  electronically using the Internet. It is estimated that 1.5 billion Christmas cards were sent here in the US by a population of 308 million in 2010 and around 679 million in the UK, which had a population of 63 million. Only 15 percent of Christmas cards are bought by men. 45 percent of all greeting cards sent are Christmas cards. Each year in Finland, Santa receives 600,000 Christmas cards.

My thoughts on Christmas cards – When my mother was alive, being totally deaf, communication by mail was one of her main contacts with the outside, so the Christmas card list was one of her favorite things, it was a time when she could connect with family and friends, and bring everyone up to date on what had happened in the past year. I have tried to keep up Mom’s Christmas card list tradition, but as I get older, sadly the list gets shorter, so it is a happy sight when I receive a card from all those I sent to.

I found a good definition of Christmas on History.com, which I quote in full, “ A Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas evolved over two millennia into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian, pagan traditions into the festivities along the way. Today, Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and exchange gifts.”

Things to remember to place on your Christmas list.

The Salvation Army

PBA toy drives of our various towns

Food drives of our various churches and organizations

Our service people

And, lastly as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, everyone.”