While the Christmas Card as a printed artwork containing seasonal greetings is relatively new, a mere century and a half old, the custom of holiday greetings goes back several centuries in Europe. Back in the 15th century, Germans presented greetings for the coming year in the form of a card holding a devotional picture for the home, perhaps including the Jesus as a child. A typical imprint might be “Ein gut selig jar”, or “A good and blessed year”.

The use of greeting cards petered out over the next couple of centuries, but by the early 1700’s, a similar tradition began in England. School children were given sheets of writing paper with engraved borders, on which they wrote simple messages to family members, to show their penmanship skills. By the early 1800’s, writing paper had acquired coloured and holiday-patterned borders and the traditional calling cards that were left by ladies visiting each other, were also printed with special seasonal designs. Matching notepaper and envelopes followed, and in 1843, Englishman Sir Henry Cole was inspired to cut down the work involved in writing all his seasonal messages, by having them mass produced. He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley to paint a three-paneled card, to remind his family and friends, of the need to be charitable to the poor at this festive time of year. In the centre panel, the card featured a family sipping wine, as they enjoyed their celebrations. The card showed a child drinking wine and this brought criticism down on Cole, for “fostering the moral corruption of children”. Cole sent out no cards the next year in protest, but the idea had caught on and became a worldwide institution.

Today, greeting cards, including Christmas Cards vary in size and quality. Some are sold in aid of charity and others are home-made making them more personal. Often the real meaning of Christmas is lost when sending cards and many cards have to reference to Christmas at all. The Spanish do not send cards as often as the British, although cards are becoming more popular here in Spain.

There is now a ‘normal’ sized card which is accepted by most postal carriers. They also prefer a white envelope, although coloured ones are popular. To overcome the extra postage charged by some companies, stick a white address label on the coloured envelope to write the postal address. Some postal carriers also refuse to deal with cards that they regard as too small, so beware when buying Christmas cards this year! You may end up having to put small cards in to larger envelopes, so ‘cheap’ does not always mean you will save money!