Christmas Cheer A-La-Internet and Fax Machine? Bah Humbug!

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Christmas cards are traditionally sent through the postal service - but now there's a new trend of sending e-cards and faxed cards. What does this mean for the fate of material cards? Image by andyk.

Christmas cards are traditionally sent through the postal service – but now there’s a new trend of sending e-cards and faxed cards. What does this mean for the fate of material cards? Image by andyk.

What’s happened to the age-old tradition of sending a classic Christmas card? Holiday cards often come complete with a special greeting, a newsy letter, a real signature, an addressed envelope and even a stamp. Some people fear that Christmas cards, just like letter mail, are in jeopardy of extinction. There is a real art to the traditional card. Christmas card traditionalists believe that they are much classier than the e-cards and fax-cards. And, better yet, they can last forever!

Cards and Letter Mail Endangered?

Christmas cards, greeting cards and letter mail of any kind are in jeopardy of extinction. Canada Post declares that all letter mail has declined by 20 per cent in the past five years. The art of writing a letter is a dying art. The decline in letter mail indicates that the art of sending a classy Christmas card with a heartfelt greeting and message is also dying.

That doesn’t mean that people no longer send Christmas cards. They’ve just found alternate means of sending their Christmas cheer. We’ve all heard of, and we’ve probably even received, the e-card and its animated message with both moving images and emotionally moving musical accompaniment. A lot of online sites offer free e-cards.

The traditional greeting card companies certainly can’t beat that price! It doesn’t require picking up a pen, thinking up an appropriate message, addressing an envelope and applying a postage stamp. What could be easier?

The History of Greeting Cards

It would indeed be tragic to see the end of traditional greeting cards. Christmas cards have a long history filled with tradition. Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882) actually commissioned the very first commercial Christmas card in London in 1843. The English historical painter, John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903), created the image showing three generations of a family raising a toast to the card’s recipient. The opposite side of the card depicted scenes of charity such as giving food and clothing to the poor. Sir Henry printed and sold over 2,000 cards and started the production of traditional commercial Christmas cards.

Harpham Brothers of Toronto sent this Christmas message in the early part of the twentieth century. A Toronto business for 50 years (1919-1969), Harpham Brothers commissioned an artist every year to create a special Christmas card for its customers. Image courtesy and with permission from the Harpham family

Harpham Brothers of Toronto sent this Christmas message in the early part of the twentieth century. A Toronto business for 50 years (1919-1969), Harpham Brothers commissioned an artist every year to create a special Christmas card for its customers. Image courtesy of, and used with permission from the Harpham family

Early Christmas cards rarely showed winter or religious scenes. The more popular images were flowers, fairies and humorous or sentimental images of children and animals. Mass production of commercial Christmas cards started in 1873 with the English lithograph company, Prang and Mayer. The company started selling Christmas cards in North America the following year. It was the first company to sell commercial Christmas cards in North America. Consequently, the company’s owner, Louis Prang, is often referred to as the ‘father of the American Christmas card.’

The tradition took off and became a popular and profitable business enterprise for stationery manufacturers. The Laura Seddon Greeting Card Collection at the Manchester Metropolitan University has in its collection 32,000 greeting cards printed during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

During the World Wars, Christmas cards were often patriotic. Nostalgic, sentimental and religious images gained in popularity. After the 1950s, more risqué humour started to appear in greeting card images and messages.

Business Christmas Greetings

While the general public enjoyed sending and receiving Christmas cards, businesses, small and large, saw the benefit of creating their own Christmas cards. It was a means of thanking loyal customers as well as a way to promote business and attract new clientele. In the early part of the twentieth century, company greeting cards were often custom-made for  the individual business. Companies hired artists to create images that were then lithographed and printed in multiple copies.

Custom-made Christmas cards are still seen as a popular advertising tool for commercial enterprises. Whilst once local artists individually created these cards, Internet sources provide a wealth of choice of designs that are easily mass-produced to the business’s specifications.

Christmas Via the Internet

Thinking of sending e-cards this Christmas? Thinking of faxing something funny to your friends and family? The nature of e-cards and faxed messages means that they are a disposable commodity. Traditionalists say that the traditional Christmas card is a personal keepsake; a treasure for all time.

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© Copyright 2013 Emily-Jane Hills Orford, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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