This is the first Christmas card ever sent.
These days the average person in the UK will send 19 Christmas cards to friends and family, but the practice is not as old as you might think. The first Christmas card was sent in 1843 which, since Christmas itself was first celebrated in the year 336 AD, means we went 1507 years without having to pick out a nice design for Grandma, or pretend to “cracker” up at some terrible puns.
The man we have to thank for the above card and the tradition it began is Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who played a part in the creation of the Public Record Office – later called the Post Office. Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to create the artwork for his great Christmas card idea, and together they printed and sold around 1000 that year for 1 shilling each (about 5p).
Using the new postage system, sending cards to far away family quickly took off and, as printing methods improved, more and more businesses started creating and selling their own cards. Cole himself sent one of his original cards to his grandmother and aunt, who kept it so safe that it still exists today. The card was auctioned in 2001 for £22,500.
The original card depicts a family gathered together to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner, with panels on either side showing people caring for the poor. As the practice grew, most cards went down a more religious path and largely featured nativity themes on the front. But in late Victorian times a trend for snow scenes and robins grew popular – and now there are hundreds of festive themes to choose from.
After 173 years of Christmas cards, they’re still the most popular way to send a Christmas greeting, with over 80% of people last year saying they’d prefer a traditional card to a festive wish sent through social media or text. From the original shilling cards, the average price has risen to £1.63 and the greeting card industry is now worth over £1.6 billion in the UK alone.
It may not be the oldest Christmas tradition, but it’s certainly here to stay.