Greetings at Christmas

Kate Giles
Sending greetings at Christmas has been around for a long time. It’s an opportunity to keep in touch and it’s a tradition I love. The first message at Christmas was noted over 400 years ago. Then some 130 years later the first Christmas card was developed. In the late 1800s the first line of American Christmas cards were produced. Today there are millions of Christmas cards sent each year. Traditional methods of sending greetings are also now going digital. But I still prefer the old ways of sending cards.
Posted by: 
Kate Giles on 20/12/2013
An illustrated early Christmas card.
The First Christmas Card

An early Christmas card.

I’ve met some very interesting people during my life. I’ve also made some wonderful friends. Certain folks I see often, and others I’ve not seen for some time. Life gets busy and keeping up with everyone is not possible. And then each year, along comes the goodwill and spirit of Christmas. This is the time of year I like to acknowledge those near and far with a Christmas card. It’s a tradition I love.

The first Christmas message

Sending greetings at Christmas has been around for over 400 years. The first message ever noted was an entry in an old English manuscript in 1565. It simply read, And thus I comytt you to God, who send you a mery Christmas.

Some 130 years later an unnamed English Admiral sent a casual written note with the words Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. This announced the beginning of sending messages of goodwill at Christmas.

First Christmas card

However, it wasn’t until 1843 that the very first Christmas card began. Sir Henry Cole was a London civil servant and it was an exceptionally busy time in his life. Henry was looking for a way to send a Christmas greeting without writing and hand delivering individual notes. Realising he could utilise the postal system and save time, he needed to come up with something that would further simplify the process.  Along with his friend and painter, John Callcott Horsley, they developed the very first Christmas card.

Capturing the spirit

John captured the spirit of Christmas well. The card had three panels. The larger central piece showed a family enjoying the festivities. People helping the less fortunate filled in the other two sections. The displayed message read A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You. The card was printed in dark sepia and as was the custom of the times, coloured in by hand.

Over 1000 of these cards were printed. They sold for a shilling each. And so began the tradition of sending Christmas greetings by card.

Greeting card industry

In 1875, Louis Prang, a German immigrant to the US, produced the first line of American cards. This was quickly followed by cheaper postcards. By the early 1920s the greeting card industry had taken off. And although there is still 2,000 million Christmas cards posted each year, nothing ever stays the same.


With the development and growth of digital technology and the increase of social media, we are once again seeing changes to the humble Christmas card. Electronic cards and personalised videos are now a sign of these modern times. Sending one for all greetings through Facebook and Twitter make easy work of wishing every a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

However, what I see on my computer doesn’t quite sit as well as the lovely cards displayed around my Christmas tree. The greetings just somehow don’t feel the same. And although I am not opposed to sending a special Facebook message on Christmas morning, or for that matter New Year’s Eve, I still prefer the tradition of individual cards whenever possible.

In the words of Sir Henry Cole all those years ago, A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.




Comment on this article