I canâ€™t wait to open my mailbox during the holiday season. Itâ€™s like opening a treasure box every time someone sends a note telling me about their year. There are a number of people who are in touch only once a year and seeing their handwriting makes my beat-up letter box the bearer of memories.
The tradition of sending holiday greetings is centuries old. The first Christmas greetings werenâ€™t cards but letters, something similar to those mass-produced notes written by families today. Instead of printed missives, they were handwritten, but those holiday wishes have a lot in common with the ones handed out today because they shared family news.
According to the Encyclopedia of Christmas by Tanya Gulevich (Omnigraphics, 2000), the first cards celebrated New Yearâ€™s, with the earliest surviving example from 1466. It was a fad that didnâ€™t last. The holiday cards we send today began in England only in the 1840s. These small, non-folding cards included decorative elements such as flowers and lace because their designs actually evolved from Valentines.
Gulevich suggests that changes in the British postal system in the 1840s popularized the sending of printed cards. Instead of addressees paying for receipt of a letter, the penny post allowed senders to cover the expense. Not surprisingly, mail delivery doubled. Americans longing for cards imported them from England. They werenâ€™t available in the United States until 1875, when German immigrant Louis Prang began printing them for all occasions including one for Christmas. Learn more about Christmas cards from the Collector CafÃ©.
Walk into any store today and shelves are full of boxed greetings ready for mailing or you can make your own using software to create personalized messages. My English friends laugh about the American tradition of sending photo cards; they arenâ€™t commonplace overseas yet. In past years our mailbox was stuffed full of envelopes, but this seems to be changing. Unfortunately, sending cards is a waning tradition. This makes all the ones weâ€™ve ever received special.
So what do you do with your cards after the holiday is over? Some people recycle them using the colorful designs for present tags while most get discarded. Think before you toss. Here are some reasons to keep what youâ€™ve received.
- If youâ€™re the family genealogist those notes and messages often contain news about events–weddings, deaths, and births. Tuck those notes away in a file and import that data into your family tree.
- If youâ€™re sending out letters, use good quality paper thatâ€™s acid-free so theyâ€™ll last in your cousinâ€™s filing cabinet. Acid-free paper is readily available at office supply stores.
- Keep the photo cards. Some members of my husbandâ€™s family send us a family photo every year. Arranging those in order creates a photographic timeline that enables you to watch the children grow from year to year. Donâ€™t forget to retain one of your own photo cards for your own collection.
- Iâ€™ve kept some of the cards relatives sent me when I was a kid. (Okay, I admit it. Iâ€™m a saver.) While many of those people are now gone, I have an example of their signature to use in a family history. Looking for a creative present idea? Ask members of the family to sign their name and frame them as a set. Donâ€™t forget to date the piece. Itâ€™s like a signature quilt or an autograph album. Looking at familiar cursive brings back lots of memories.
Itâ€™s time for me to replace my mailbox with something a little more substantial that alludes to its important duty–holding holiday greetings from friends and family. If you want to learn more about Christmas traditions, check out The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, by Gerry Bowler (M & S, 2000) and Amy Whorf McGuigganâ€™s Christmas in New England: A Treasury of Traditions, from the Yule Log and the Christmas Tree to Flying Santa and the Enchanted Village (Commonwealth Editions, 2006).
When Maureen Taylor isn’t cooking for a crowd, she’s writing about family history and photography. Visit her on the Web at http://www.photodetective.com.