You might not give it a second thought, but why – and when – did sending Christmas cards become a common holiday tradition? Well, it dates back to early Victorian England and very popular British man who just couldn’t keep up with his correspondence.
It all started during the holiday season of 1843 when Henry Cole, a prominent educator and patron of the arts, desired a simple solution to reply to his growing stacks of unanswered mail. He asked artist friend J.C. Horsley to illustrate a family at a table celebrating the holiday surrounded by images of people helping the poor. He then had a thousand copies made by a London printer on 5 x 3 inch cardboard with the greeting "A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You." At the top of each card was the salutation "TO:_____", which allowed him to personalize his responses to each recipient. He had just created the first Christmas card.
Christmas cards didn't really catch on in the United States until several decades later when Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant with a print shop near Boston, created his version of the holiday postcards. He selected an more artistic image of a flower with the simple greeting "Merry Christmas". Others soon followed, depicting mostly animals and nature scenes rather than the more nativity or holiday centric images we are used to today. Through the end of the century, the artistry and quality of these cards grew as card publishers organized competitions with new designs being reviewed in newspapers and collected by enthusiasts.
In 1915, the Hall Brothers in Kansas City standardized the modern Christmas card format – 4x6 inches, folded once and inserted in an envelope – as a way to give people more room to write everything they wanted to say. A fledgling company at the time, you now know them as Hallmark.