In a few days, our mailboxes will begin to fill with holiday greeting cards, a centuries-old tradition since its inception in the 1840s. While it has now blossomed into a major industry, the first card holiday greetings was born out of a lack of time. Sir Henry Cole, a prominent educator and patron of the arts, traveled in the rarefied social circles of early Victorian England. His misfortune of having too many friends caused him great anxiety during the holiday season of 1843, so he and an artist friend designed what would have been the first holiday greeting card.
They then appeared in the United States when in 1875 Louis Prang, a printer from Germany who was working on the first maps in the United Kingdom, began mass-producing them, making them more affordable.
The modern Christmas card industry began in 1915 when a Kansas City postcard printing company started by Joyce Hall released its first greeting card. A decade later, Hall and brothers Rollie and William changed the Hall Brothers company name to Hallmark, and the rest is retail history. They adapted a 4 x 6 format, folded once, and inserted it into an envelope.
According to the Greeting Card Association, Christmas is the biggest card-sending holiday in the United States, with some 1.3 billion cards sent each year. The reasons for the holiday ritual are as varied as the cards themselves. For many, it’s a way to keep in touch with loved ones near and far. “I send them because we’ve lived in many places over the years and have family and friends spread all over the country,” Wendy Bolton said.
2020, with the pandemic still in full swing, has posed a challenge for some.
“Last year was the first year we didn’t send out cards because we didn’t do much and my heart just wasn’t in it,” Kay Nowatzki said. “But we’ll pick up this year just to remind our friends that we’re still here so they don’t knock us off their roster.” Senders have gotten creative with phrases such as “From our Quarantine to Yours”.
For others, it’s an opportunity to take stock of the past 12 months.
“It’s a family tradition and also seems to be a yearly recap of the previous year,” Bitsy Ming said. “That’s probably my favorite part of the season.”
For years, local businesses like Socially Yours and Dear Annie have been go-to producers of creative and unique greeting cards. Today, most rely on internet printing companies like Simply to Impress and Tiny Prints to make the process convenient and reasonable.
With the advent of photo cards, the annual tradition is also an excuse to gather the family for the camera.
“It inspires us to take a family photo every year,” said Reagan Cannon.
But with the demands of the holiday season, getting a greeting card out before December 24 can be a challenge.
“I enjoyed seeing the families grow through the photos,” Judi McCarthy said. “I started sending New Year’s cards to give me more time. It’s the best change I’ve ever made.”
For some families, there is a tradition within a tradition – where and how to display them.
“Every Christmas I hang them all on a garland on the mantle so we can enjoy them,” Marianne Keathley said.
The Icardo family clings to theirs for months. “We keep the ones we get for months in a basket and every night pick one at random and pray for that friend or family at dinner time,” Christine Icardo said.
The same with our family, carrying on my mother’s custom of having checkered bows and ribbons in the entryway of our house and cutting those we received for visitors to see. Knowing all the hard work that goes into the cards, we leave them until Valentine’s Day.
So however you express your holiday wishes this year, here are our best wishes for the end of the year!