The Origin of Christmas Cards

For more than 150 years, Christians have enjoyed sending and receiving personal cards that reflect our faith to people we know and love! Some cards are accompanied by annual family updates; others are photographs with handwritten notes. How and where did this tradition begin?

In the early 1800’s, many people wrote letters to friends and family members during the Christmas season. Because the holiday was sacred, Christians typically wrote greetings and good wishes on specialty paper. In 1843, a British gentleman named Sir Henry Cole found this practice to be daunting and time consuming. Cole commissioned an illustrator, John Horsley, to paint several cards with a simple message that could be duplicated and sent to all the people he knew. Using the lithographic process, Horsley hand-colored 1,000 copies of Cole’s first card.

The center of the three-panel card portrayed a family celebrating Christmas—and this simple message, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” One side-panel showed people feeding the hungry; the other panel portrayed clothing the naked. Initially, some people protested the idea of including secular images in Christmas greetings. Puritans, for example, objected that the family scene was overly merry. By the 1860’s, however, dissension had ceased; the new tradition was firmly in place throughout Britain.

A German lithographer named Louis Prang brought greeting cards to the United States. His improved printing process made it far more affordable to print and sell cards. By 1881, Prang’s company printed five million cards per year. By the turn of the century, Christmas “penny postcards” had become very popular.

During this time, the Providence Lithograph Company (Providence, R.I.) began gathering and commissioning an extensive collection of artwork with historical, biblical, and Americana themes. This body of art grew to more than 5,000 paintings from 200 artists. Many of those paintings are featured in DiscipleLand’s Bible curriculum.

Today you can download a free, vintage Christmas card from the Providence Lithograph Collection. Continue the Christmas card tradition this year. Send Christmas greetings and good wishes to all your friends, family, and children’s ministry volunteers!

Your friends at DiscipleLand, extend…

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You!

Download a free Providence Collection Christmas Card: Click Here

Credit: John Callcott Horsley image Wikimedia Commons

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One Response

  1. Yvonne Thigpen December 9, 2015

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