HOW THE CHRISTMAS CARD WAS BORN
by Rob Lauer
What to do when one is so popular and receives so much mail from friends that one can't find the time to write everyone back? That was the problem Henry Cole was facing during the holiday season of 1843.
A prominent British educator and arts patron, Henry Cole, had the misfortune of having too many friends in an age when it was considered a sign of supreme disrespect not to answer every letter one received. By 1843, the British postal system had expanded, been improved and introduced the penny stamp. Now that virtually everyone could afford to send mail, an old English custom of writing Christmas and New Year letters to family and friends took on new life.
As Cole watched the Christmas letters pour in, he panicked. With so little time before the holidays and needing a quick way to respond to everyone, he came up with an ingenious idea. He had an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, create a drawing of a family gathered around a table celebrating the holiday, flanked by images of people helping the poor. Across the drawing were the words, "A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to You." Cole quickly had London printer run off a thousand copies of the drawing on small pieces of stiff cardboard with the word "To" printed at the top followed by a space on which he could write someone's name. The world's first Christmas card had been born!
Within a few years, sending Christmas cards became a worldwide phenomenon, pumping new life into the new greeting card industry.
Today, Americans buy about 6.5 billion cards annually, according to the Greeting Card Association, with 1.3 billion selling during the holiday season alone.
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