The First Christmas Cards: Dead Animals And Kidnapped Children

The first Christmas card was born of outdated etiquette

Whether you like them or not, Christmas cards are a part of the season. They may feel like they've been around forever, but the first Christmas cards only date back to the Victorian era, when changes to the postal system made everyone all mail-happy. Until 1840, mail carriers in Britain came around 10 times a day, and the receiver had to pay for every letter, but the implementation of the postage stamp that year suddenly made correspondence affordable. Apparently, Victorians had been waiting breathlessly for the opportunity to send each other weird pictures. The first Christmas cards were morbid, creepy, and straight-up bizarre.

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Thanks to the etiquette of the time, however, the new system posed a problem for popular Victorians. It was considered incredibly rude to ignore a letter for too long, so those who had been blessed with many friends, such as Sir Henry Cole, soon found that their correspondence had become a second job.

Up to his neck in postage, Cole figured out a simple way to respond to all of the lettersHe commissioned artist J.C. Horsley to illustrate a triptych depicting a family scene centered between scenes of people helping the poor and ordered 1,000 postcard-size copies with a greeting at the top that read "TO:_____" so the cards could be addressed to anyone. Cole's unwavering manners created the first Christmas card.