Each year, Americans send and receive millions of Christmas and holiday cards. We think of them as greetings, and often they help us to catch up with distant family and friends. Christmas cards can sometimes signal the start of the holiday season, and they frequently let friends and family know we are thinking of them.
But where did these cards come from? Who first came up with the idea to send a card during the holiday season?
It would seem that the first card originated in England, where the first printed, mass-produced Christmas card was created by John Calcott Horsley in1843. That card sold for one shilling and looked like a postcard.
Thirty-two years later, Louis Pang produced the first Christmas card in the United States in 1875 in Roxburg, Mass., a place that would become considered the home of the American greeting card industry.
The History of Christmas Cards
But a closer look at the history of Christmas cards reveals that these were not the first ever holiday cards. In fact, historians believe that Christmas cards originated long before they could be printed. In ancient Rome, for example, it was standard to send gifts and cards on the first day of the New Year. These cards were sent on December 25 to ensure they arrived by January 1.
When Christianity took over in Rome the tradition continued, though the cards still did not make mention of Christmas.
The Christmas card tradition eventually migrated to England, and the tradition appeared in the form of homemade cards and calling cards long before Calcott Horsley mass produced the first card. Initially, the English versions of the cards combined well wishes for both Christmas and the New Year and were delivered before Christmas Day.
The lithography was invented at the end of the 1700s and further promoted the use of Christmas and holiday greeting cards. The growing use of stationary and Christmas calling cards prompted Calcott Horsley to create the first Christmas card in 1843.
Christmas Cards Today: Do People Still Send Christmas Cards?
Today, millions of Christmas cards are sent in the United States and around the world each year. The cards have expanded to recognize many religions and celebrations in addition to Christmas and often make no reference to Christmas at all, instead focusing on the holiday season.
- American History Through Christmas Cards. www.wisconsinhistory.org.
- Faust, Jessica. The Book of Christmas: Stories, Poems, and Recipes for Sharing the Most Wonderful Time of Year. Citadel Press, 2002.