Monday, December 16, 2013

A Christmas Tradition

Early Christmas Postcard

Christmas is only a few weeks away and I am opening and enjoying each of the few Holiday greeting cards that appear in my mailbox. Even though I know those from my accountant, car dealership, and insurance man aren’t truly Christmas greetings, but rather reminders of their services, I still welcome them!

Everyone has a special Christmas tradition. Exchanging Christmas cards was perhaps my favorite. Years ago, I sent and received dozens of Christmas cards. Those beautiful cards sent by friends and family were filled with greetings, notes, photographs of kids and pets, and those printed annual letters of family happenings. I read them all, grateful that once each year, faraway friends and family remembered and cared to keep in touch!  Like so many others, I decorated doorways, mantels, and our Christmas tree with them. And, when the Holidays were over, I read them again, saved addresses, put photos in frames, and packed away those beautiful cards to be looked at again the following year.

The tradition of exchanging Christmas greetings between friends and family that began in the 1870s is rapidly vanishing. Today, every hour of every day is jam packed. During the Holidays, it’s doubly so. The cost of cards and postage has gone sky high! E-cards (and emails in general) are faster and oh so much cheaper! There’s Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Instagram. And, the cost of those once ever-so expensive long distance calls, are now hidden in our cell phone plans.

It was the German lithographer, Louis Prang, who, in 1875, began mass producing affordable cards that made it possible for Americans to begin the tradition of exchanging greetings at Christmastime. His earliest cards featured children, robins, flowers, plants, and snow scenes. They were things of beauty - often adorned with ribbons, lace, satin, and fringe. Although Prang’s cards were the most popular, they were not the cheapest. Prices ranged from 75 cents to $1.25. To stimulate interest, Prang ran design contests with prize money reaching as high as a $1,000.  By 1890, all sorts of companies were producing Christmas cards. The market was flooded with cheap cards. Prang quit in frustration.

It was really the postcard boom that ended the production of those beautiful early Victorian cards. The “penny postcard” made it inexpensive to buy and send cards. Many of the early American, German, and British cards featured beautiful colored illustrations of birds, bells, angels, dolls, toys, trees, religious scenes, and Santas. Originals are still sought after by collectors. Postcards with Santa Claus wearing a robe in brown, green, blue (like the one above), purple, and even pink remain among the favorites. Embossing and silver and gold embellishments make them even more special.

Today, many of the designs have been reproduced and are for sale in stores and on the Internet. I’ve purchased some and I plan to do my part to continue the tradition of exchanging Christmas greetings. May you continue your favorite tradition and spread the joy of the Holiday Season!
A version of this post appears in Lifestyles2000.