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The holly jolly history of Christmas cards


What is the history of Christmas cards? Uncover the magical origins of this humble gift and look at why alternatives to physical cards are just as fun.

Sending Christmas greetings is a given when the festive period comes around. Whether you send them to keep you connected to your loved ones, or it’s just part of your Christmas traditions, cards are a much-loved novelty.  So much so that an estimated 900 million Christmas cards are sent each year in the UK.

But how much do you really know about their origin? Read on to uncover the holly jolly history of Christmas cards and look at the rise of the new paperless alternative.

History of Christmas cards - textcards

Who invented the Christmas card?

The Christmas card dates to the 1400s in ancient China, where it was a tradition to exchange New Year greetings with paper messages. 

The ancient Egyptians also exchanged written greetings on papyrus scrolls. So, the intent and need for sending messages have been around for a long time.

It wasn’t until 1843 that the first official Christmas card appeared in London. It’s believed a wealthy British businessman, Sir Henry Cole, commissioned a holiday card from a respected illustrator at the time, John Calcott Horsley. 

At that moment, Sir Henry Cole saw that the postal service could offer a huge commercial opportunity to enable people to send cheap messages to their loved ones. A good move some might say. 

Unlike the Christmas cards we have today, decorated with Christmas puddings, crackers and fluffy penguins, the first Christmas card was black and white with the option of a hand-coloured version (but at a cost!).

When was the first Christmas card sent?

The year 1840 saw the creation of the postage stamp. So sending Christmas cards became easy and accessible.  Sir Henry Cole sent his first Christmas card, designed by John Calcott Horsley, and the card read: ‘A Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you.’ 

Thousands of those cards were created and he sent half to his friends and sold the rest. And from then on, the Christmas card frenzy began.

When were Christmas cards delivered in Victorian times?

One shilling was a big deal for most people in Victorian times and Christmas cards were a thing for the wealthy. As printing methods and posting services evolved, Christmas cards were produced in masses, and they became more accessible to society. 

The introduction of the Penny Post was to thank for that. The concept was simple. This famous mailing system delivered letters and small parcels around London for one penny in 1840.  Christmas cards continued to evolve. By the late Victorian era, English robin birds and snow scenes were common designs.

Nowadays, there are no limits to Christmas card designs. (Just look at some of our Christmas e-cards.)

How much did the first Christmas card cost?

Unlike today, where you can send e-cards for very little or buy a bulk of cards for £3 or less, the first Christmas card was quite a costly affair. The black and white version of the famous first Christmas card was sold for sixpence, while the hand-coloured version was sold for one shilling. 

Today, Christmas cards are a crucial part of Christmas for millions of people. In fact, the Christmas greetings cards market was valued at a breath-taking £161.8 million in 2020. (And that doesn’t even include packaging and boxes!)

The rise of Christmas e-cards

Thanks to the rise of social media and the fast nature of the world we live in, the e-Christmas card is the new way to stay connected. 

Although you might think the tangible feel of a physical Christmas card makes it all the more special, the benefits of e-cards are endless. For example:

  • They help the environment
  • They are cheap and cheerful
  • They are quick and easy to send (you can do it without leaving your chair!)

So, why not send a penguin in a Christmas hat, a festive reindeer, or a Terrence the turkey? 

E-cards aren’t just perfect for Christmas either, they are the perfect touch for any occasion.

History of Christmas cards - textcards

Give the gift of an e-Christmas card

At Textcards, we offer fun, funky and cool Christmas e-card designs to suit every taste. 

Simply choose your design, customise your card and pick the time and date you want it to reach the lucky recipient. It’s easy! 

And the holly on top of the Christmas pudding? You can even send an e-voucher for that extra special touch. (It is Christmas, after all.)

So, what are you waiting for? Visit our website today for a reliable, cheap, easy and sustainable choice of gift cards. 

Merry Christmas.