History of Christmas Cards

Early History

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Although many early Christmas cards have a strong German influence, the invention of our modern day Christmas card can be deemed an essentially English invention. New Year's greetings date back as far as the 1400's, but printed Christmas greetings developed later. Long before the first commercial Christmas cards were produced, Germans in the fifteenth century presented seasonal gifts called 'Andachtsbilder', a sort of a greeting card with a devotional picture for the home. They were often decorated with a scroll and the Christ Child bearing a cross with the inscription 'Ein gut selig jar', meaning 'A good and blessed year.'

The use of these cards dwindled over the next two centuries. Then in the eighteenth century special printed items were made to be given out during the holidays. The first holiday greeting cards were probably the "Christmas Pieces" made by students in the early 18th century. Grade-school students would take large sheets of writing paper, printed with engraved borders, and write messages to their parents expressing holiday greetings. A child might write a message such as "Love to Dearest Mummy at the Christmas Season" or "Holiday Wishes to Aunt Agatha and Uncle Fred." These samplers were designed to show their parents how well their handwriting improved over the past year. By 1820 color was added to the engraved borders, making the pieces much more decorative. The use of notepaper with matching envelops, both with decorative designs printed on them, was another early custom.

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