You’ve probably already had a few at this point in proceedings (this year, I’ve even been sent one with a rather festive zebra on it!), and I can almost guarantee you’ve forgotten somebody when sending yours, because that’s traditional…
Christmas cards. They can be a real pain to get written and sent, but are always nice to receive. We see them as a pleasant age-old festive tradition, but they only came about in their modern form in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Yep. Just like so many other things that seem to have been part of Christmas forever, the sending of Christmas cards was popularised by those Victorians. You can see a reproduction of the first commercially available card above (and you can see more Victorian and Edwardian cards in the slideshow below).
This first Christmas card was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882) in 1843. Clearly a shrewd man, he had previously been involved in the introduction of the hugely successful Penny Post in 1840 and later organised the Great Exhibition of 1851, plus he was the first Director of London’s Victoria & Albert museum in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Sir Henry commissioned the well-known artist John Calcott-Horsely (1817-1903) to design the card – and a thousand copies were produced, each hand-coloured. Once Cole had written and sent his share of the cards, the rest were put up for sale for a shilling apiece via an advert in The Athenaeum:
Just published. A Christmas Congratulation Card: or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between Dear Friends.
Showing a multi-generational family lifting a toast to the recipient and bookended by scenes of Christmas charity, the design of the card contained a very Victorian message of philanthropy, which we can also see in other such near-contemporary examples as the Christmas Books of Charles Dickens.
However, the image of a family drinking wine depicted on this card caused some controversy among the more outspoken and influential members of the Temperance Movement in Britain, who felt very strongly that the card promoted drunkenness!
Cole’s Christmas card was an immediate success, and the demand was such that a second printing had to be produced very quickly. In total, more than two thousand copies were printed and sold that Christmas – the Christmas card had, as it were, arrived.
You can see from the slideshow that many nineteenth and early twentieth century Christmas cards didn’t always look all that festive or religious in the sense that we would know it (and anyway, I’d love to know what’s so Christmassy about a ‘Beauty Spot at Bondi’, or a bunch of grumpy kittens perched upon a pipe! Admittedly, the Victorians seemed to love imagery of small and distinctly annoyed moggies – perhaps descendants of the notorious Icelandic Yule Cat?)
However, it’s also interesting to note that religious and secular seasonal themes were combined in some Christmas card art from very early on. Cards featuring angels carrying Christmas trees or guiding Father Christmas on his deliveries are yet another example of the longstanding jointly Christian/non-Christian nature of the festive celebrations.
A related phenomenon is the Victorian New Year card, which may hark back to historical celebrations of the Twelve Days of Christmas, when the upper reaches of society would exchange gifts on January 1st. You can see a few examples of these nineteenth century cards in the slideshow above, all of which depict themes of newness and/or luck in the coming year.
In recent years, such cards seem to have made a return – I have seen numerous examples on sale this Christmas (including – where else? – at the Post Office…). Greetings cards are big business in 21st century Britain, with one in six retailers stocking them. Many people also enjoy making them at home as a hobby, which obviously requires production of the relevent craft supplies (and glue all over your fingers).
Brits buy more greeting cards than any other nation, and raise around £50 million for various charities with the purchase of fundraising Christmas cards every year. You could see that as a nod back to the philanthropic message of Sir Henry Cole’s original, although I’m not sure what he would think about the auction of a rare surviving 1843 card for over £22,000 in 2001…
Cole’s small idea took wings, and now you can instantly send a Christmas card to someone on the other side of the world with just the click of a mouse. So I’m sending this post out as a Christmas card to you all, wherever you are, with love.
For more festive reading, visit the links here
I was invited by friends to visit Rochester Square Gardens in Camden, north London yesterday as this community garden project was celebrating its first birthday. Tucked away in a small, quiet square only five minutes walk from Camden Road station, this lovely space was once a plant nursery. Its current caretakers have transformed what had been a derelict site into a place where both plants and people grow sustainably. On their Facebook page (see below), they explain their ethos and invite people to get involved:
We currently facilitate workshops and events promoting environmental awareness and action, Art/Crafts/Music/Film/Photography and Movement. The space welcomes you to tune in with the rhythms of collective awakening, evolution and harmony on our planet.
If you have ideas for the space or would like to run a workshop / presentation / event, get in touch and be a part of the garden! :)
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this peaceful urban oasis and recommend you pop by if you’re in the area! If you’d like a taster of the place, you can see some of the photographs I took during my visit in the slideshow above…
A few photos from the Sunday of this year’s Notting Hill Carnival.
I recently paid a visit to the Syon Lane Community Allotment in west London. Set up by some of the people involved in the Kew Bridge Eco-Village project on the site of what had previously been long-derelict and long-forgotten allotments running alongside Syon Lane station, this rather lovely green space is currently full of late summer colour and growth – as you can see from these photos!
If you’ve been inspired by the slideshow above and would like to visit, the site is open to all every Sunday until dusk. It runs parallel to Platform 1 of Syon Lane station (South West Trains) – the platform for trains heading from Hounslow towards Waterloo – and can be accessed via the footpath to Rothbury Gardens.
With public sector workers on strike across the country yesterday, somewhere between fifteen and thirty thousand strikers (depending on which media or official source you consult, as is ever the case with these things!) and their supporters attended a central London march and rally in opposition to government cuts to the sector and their pensions. This slideshow is just some of what I saw.
Many, many thanks to all the amazing women (and one male ally!) who let me photograph them and their placards at Saturday’s Slutwalk London – this slideshow represents a tiny fraction of all the photos I took, but every image has inspired me in some way…
(BBC News website report on Slutwalk London here)
Note: It has been pointed out to me that the first picture in the slideshow sequence doesn’t seem to be showing – will try and fix that as soon as I can!
Update: As of 15/06/11, the slideshow appears to be working correctly again – let me know if there are any more problems with it!