Christmas Greeting Cards: Its Essence and Origin

How do you tell somebody you care? Go to the store, buy a card and let somebody else do the telling for you. Greeting cards are illustrated cards usually featuring a message of greeting or other sentiment. Although greetings cards are usually given on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas or other holidays, they can also be sent on ‘non-occasions’ to say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’.

Though Christmas has been celebrated since the birth of Christ, the first known usage of any Christmas greeting was in an informal letter written by an English admiral in 1699. The same phrase appeared in the first Christmas greeting card, produced in 19th century England. The then relatively new term ‘Merry Christmas’ figured prominently in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843. The origin of Christmas greeting refers directly to the Christmas holiday Christmas greetings and was initially the first greeting used for any holiday in the November-January timeframe. Christmas greetings are popular among Christians and the non-christians alike.

The father of American Christmas cards was award-winning Boston lithographer/inventor Louis Prang, who, in 1873, reproduced a holiday card autographed by Christmas Carol author, Charles Dickens. Perhaps the greatest of Prang’s many innovations was the development of a multi-color printing process that incorporated as many as 20 colors on one print or card. Hues and detailing were so vivid that artists were sometimes not able to distinguish their own works from reproduced chromos (chromolithographic prints) when hung side by side on a wall. Taking full advantage of this technology, Prang employed the finest artisans of his day. Card painters included the likes of Frederick S. Church, Arthur F. Tait and Winslow Homer. Poetic geniuses such as Longfellow, Tennyson and William Cullen Bryant were among those hired to write verses.

Do you know where the word ‘Christmas’ sprang from? Christmas is derived from the words ‘Cristes Maesse’, meaning Christ’s Mass. It is also sometimes referred to as Xmas. This ‘X’ in the word stands for ‘Xristos’, and means Christ in Greek. Xristos Mass is shortened to Xmas.

Christmas is one event in the calendar which is celebrated around the world in the most varied of ways, with customs and traditions differing from one region to another and celebrations spanning a wide range from deeply religious to festively secular. Christmas around the world makes an interesting study by all odds. Motley of bits and pieces taken from this region and that, every country around the world has developed its own way of celebrating Christmas.

Many people send cards to both close friends and distant acquaintances. The greeting in the card can be personalized and are usually exchanged year after year, the phrase “to be off someone’s Christmas card list” is used to indicate a falling out between friends or public figures. Many businesses, particularly smaller local businesses, also send Christmas cards to the people on their customer lists, as a way to develop general goodwill, retain brand awareness and reinforce social networks. These cards are almost always tasteful, and do not attempt to sell a product, limiting themselves to mentioning the name of the business.

Typical content of these Christmas Greeting Cards ranges from truly Christian symbols such as Nativity scenes and the Star of Bethlehem to purely secular references, sometimes humorous, to seasonal weather or common Christmas time activities like shopping and partying.

Many organizations produce special Christmas greeting cards as a fundraising tool; the most famous of these enterprises is probably the UNICEF Christmas card program.

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