Twelve traditions of Christmas, Pt 1 – Christmas Cards and Secret Santa

It’s that time of year again! To celebrate all things Christmas I have decided to have a festive blogging session in several parts, which I will post over the coming weeks.

My first post is dedicated to Christmas Cards and Secret Santa!

Christmas Cards

According to one Christmas website 678.9 million cards were sent in the UK in 2010, whilst in the US the figure was 1.5 billion! The website also states that 45% of cards sent throughout the year are sent at Christmas, 15% of those are sent by men!

I received my first one on Saturday, albeit from my festively excited hairdresser!

my first card of 2011!

Christmas card history begins in 1843 with Henry Cole, the founder of the Victoria and Albert museum (V & A). Henry found there were too many people he wanted to send written seasons greetings to.  Writing notes to them all had become time-consuming, he was finding it increasingly impossible to keep up with.

In 1843 he decided to commission an artist, John Calcott Horsley, to paint a scene depicting the poor being fed and clothed which he then sent out. The greeting inside read ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you’ In those days the Merry meant ‘blessed’!

It is thought that, out of the one thousand originally sent by Henry Cole, twelve are still in existence. One of those cards was reportedly sold for £9000 in 2005!. Although Henry did not send any the year after sending cards began to grow momentum, by 1880 manufacturing of Christmas cards became big business.

Early versions, in the form of postcards, mostly depicted subjects such as flowers and other designs reminding the recipient that Spring was not far off. These cards were elaborately designed with silk or satin, some were also shaped like fans or crescents.

Earlier this year I started researching Christmas card history. My research took me to the V & A which has a fascinating archive of Christmas cards, many of them are from the Victorian era and reflect the customs of that time.  Others depict children playing or eating together whilst a few featured flags alluding to uniting the country and other countries. I left with a strong sense of the cards promoting ‘family’ and ‘togetherness’.

The designs of these centuries old cards have made them a favourite of collectors over the years. One famous Christmas card collector was Queen Mary, the British Museum houses a collection of her cards in their Print and Drawings department which is restricted to week day openings. I have not been to see the collection yet, but look forward to visiting it very shortly.

Secret Santa

This weekend I need to go shopping for a gift of up to £5 for one of my colleagues.  It should be quite easy as I like the person I pulled out of the envelope.  Yep, it’s Secret Santa time!

Some people dread receiving this kind of present, who wants to open an embarrassing present in front of everyone!  So far I have escaped this and  received non embarrassing presents!  I’m sure my time will come though!

So who is responsible for this hit or miss event?  Apparently we have an American philanthropist called Larry Dean Stewart to blame for it.

Larry Dean Stewart is thought to have started the tradition by spending twenty years doing random of acts of kindness.  He gave away money but the concept soon took on a life of its own and it evolved in to exchanging inexpensive anonymous gifts.

A quick search on google shows that there are now many websites which cater for that perfect anonymous gift!

I would love to hear about your secret santa stories…the best and worst gifts you have received.


About Maria Explores...

Blogger and Freelance Writer
This entry was posted in Customs and Traditions, History, London, Miscellaneous, Museums and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Twelve traditions of Christmas, Pt 1 – Christmas Cards and Secret Santa

  1. I like this post so much 🙂
    Actual greeting cards excite me to no end, which is why I’m doing my best to even hand-make the ones I’ll send this year. It’s a shame more people are only sending ecards nowadays…

    Secret Santa? Hmmm… it’s been a while, since we mostly did this while I was still in school. I recall my best secret santa gift being a photo album – I love taking pictures so it fit at the time as I had a camera that needed the photos developed, etc.
    My worst gift was a huge framed flower, which I got because a classmate knew who my secret santa was and tried to help. I know I told said classmate that I liked a frame which was next to that awful looking gift I ended up receiving…

  2. mariawriter says:

    Hello 🙂

    Thank you for commenting. I am hoping to make more of my own cards in future. I have started watercolour painting and think it would be fun to paint my own.

    You should see some of the secret santa presents people get at our office christmas lunch. It is a source of great hilarity!


  3. Anita Mac says:

    I love the concept of creating your own card, or even photo cards for Christmas. It is so personal and feels more like – “I am thinking of you”! So many easy ways to do it now – I love receiving these kinds of cards, and I know my extended family loves the ones of my sister’s kids or travels.

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