The history of the Christmas card

INDIANA – Holiday cards are ingrained in society. The practice may seem forever linked to the holiday season, but it might be surprising to learn the history of the Christmas card is relatively short.

The Smithsonian Institution detailed the fascinating and short history of the Christmas card in their magazine. England’s Henry Cole and artist friend J.C. Horsley are credited with creating the first Christmas card in 1843. Mr. Cole had the good problem of having too many friends and wanted to find an efficient way to send return letters.

Cole asked his friend Horsley to sketch a design of a family celebrating a Christmas dinner in the center, with people helping the poor around the family. Cole had the image printed on stiff cardboard along with the salutation “To [blank],” so that each card could be personalized. The phrase “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You” was also included, and the first Christmas card was created.

The practice of giving Christmas cards did not occur in the U.S. until 1875. Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant with a print shop in Boston, is credited with printing the first American Christmas card. The Library of Congress has digitized some of his work.

The artistry associated with Christmas cards grew over the years with famous artists like Salvador Dali or Norman Rockwell even contributing work. Many Christmas cards have been digitized and can be viewed on Indiana Memory (keyword search: “Christmas card”) or Smithsonian Institution Holiday Card Collection. The Smithsonian magazine is available at the Indiana State Library or online.