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Christmas card

Christmas

Christmas card

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Some christmas cards
Some christmas cards

A Christmas card is a greeting card that is decorated in a manner that celebrates Christmas. Typical content ranges from truly Christian symbols such as Nativity scenes and the Star of Bethlehem to purely secular references, sometimes humorous, to seasonal weather or common Christmastime activities like shopping and partying. Christmas cards are exchanged during the Christmas season (around December 25) by many people (including non-Christians) in Western culture and in Japan.

Some Christian groups (such as Jehovah's Witnesses), however, disdain the celebration of holidays without explicit Biblical authorization, and so neither celebrate Christmas nor exchange Christmas cards.

Contents

History

The world's first Christmas card, made by John Callcott Horsley
The world's first Christmas card, made by John Callcott Horsley

The first commercial Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London, 1843, and featured an illustration by John Callcott Horsley. The picture, of a family with a small child drinking wine together, proved controversial, but the idea was shrewd: Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post three years earlier. A batch of 1000 cards was printed and they sold for a shilling each; in December 2005, one of these cards was auctioned for nearly 9000.

Early English cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, instead favoring flowers, fairies and other fanciful designs that reminded the recipient of the approach of spring. Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were popular, as were increasingly elaborate shapes, decorations and materials. In 1875 Louis Prang became the first printer to offer cards in America, though the popularity of his cards led to cheap imitations that eventually drove him from the market. The advent of the postcard spelled the end for elaborate Victorian-style cards, but by the 1920s, cards with envelopes had returned.

Cards continued to evolve throughout the 20th century with changing tastes and printing techniques. The World Wars brought cards with patriotic themes. Idiosyncratic "studio cards" with cartoon illustrations and sometimes risque humor caught on in the 1950s. Nostalgic, sentimental, and religious images are once again popular, and reproductions of Victorian and Edwardian cards are easy to obtain.

"Official" Christmas cards began with Queen Victoria in the 1840s. The British royal family's cards are generally portraits reflecting significant personal events of the year. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first official White House card. The cards usually depict White House scenes as rendered by prominent American artists. The number of recipients has snowballed over the decades, from just 2000 in 1961 to 1.4 million in 2005.[1]

Modern Christmas cards can be bought individually but are usually sold in packs of the same or varied designs. A revival of interest in paper crafts, particularly scrapbooking, has raised the status of the homemade card and made available an array of tools for stamping, punching and cutting. Advances in digital photography and printing have provided a more technological way to personalize cards with photos, messages, or clip art.

Technology may also be responsible for the decline of the Christmas card. The estimated number of cards received by American households dropped from 29 in 1987 to 20 in 2004.[2] Email and telephones allow for more frequent contact and are easier for generations raised without handwritten letters. Nonetheless, with 1.9 billion cards sent in the U.S. in 2005 alone, they are unlikely to disappear any time soon.

From the beginning, Christmas cards have been avidly collected. Queen Mary amassed a large collection that is now housed in the British Museum.[3] Specimens from the "golden age" of printing (1840s-1890s) are especially prized and bring in large sums at auctions. Collectors may focus on particular images like Santa Claus, poets, or printing techniques.

The Christmas card list

Many people send cards to both close friends and distant acquaintances, potentially making the sending of cards a multi-hour chore in addressing scores or even hundreds of envelopes. The greeting in the card can be personalized but brief, or may include a summary of the year's news. The extreme of this is the Christmas letter (below). Because cards are usually exchanged year after year, the phrase "to be off someone's Christmas card list" is used to indicate a falling out between friends or public figures.

Many businesses, particularly smaller local businesses, also send Christmas cards to the people on their customer lists, as a way to develop general goodwill, retain brand awareness and reinforce social networks. These cards are almost always tasteful, and do not attempt to sell a product, limiting themselves to mentioning the name of the business. The practice harkens back to "trade cards" of the 18th century, an ancestor of the modern Christmas card.[4]

Christmas letters

Some people take the annual mass mailing of cards as an opportunity to update everybody with the year's events, and include the so-called "Christmas letter" reporting on the family's doings, sometimes running to multiple printed pages. While a practical notion, Christmas letters meet with a mixed reception; recipients may take it as boring minutiae, bragging, or a combination of the two. Since the letter will be received by both close and distant relatives, there is also the potential for the family members to object to how they are presented to others; an entire episode of Everybody Loves Raymond was built around conflict over the content of just such a letter.

Variants on the concept

In 2004, the German post office gave away 20 million of free scented stickers, to make Christmas cards smell of a fir Christmas tree, cinnamon, gingerbread, a honey-wax candle, a baked apple and an orange.

Charity

Many organizations produce special Christmas cards as a fundraising tool; the most famous of these enterprises is probably the UNICEF Christmas card program.

References


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Christmas Guide, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.