History of Holiday Hellos

Lloyd Burdette Mignerey Christmas Card, 1918. Courtesy of Otterbein University. Via Ohio Memory.

Many of our current holiday traditions can be traced back to Victorian England, especially for the ever-popular Christmas card! In the early years of the penny post it became increasingly popular to send friends letters, and responses were expected. If one was ignored, it was considered rude. Henry Cole, a prominent member of society in Victorian England, quickly became overwhelmed by the number of letters he was receiving, especially as they increased during the holidays. Cole was a well-known patron of the arts and decided he had a plan to respond to all his friends’ inquiries efficiently. He approached his friend, artist J.C. Horsley, and requested he design an illustration of a family celebrating the holidays, flanked by images of people helping the poor, as well as add text saying “To:” at the top. The design was intended to be sent as a personalized response without needing to write long responses. Cole and Horsley’s creation was sent to a printer who created thousands of copies, and thus the modern Christmas card was born.

Anne O’Hare McCormick Christmas Card to Sister Mary Anthony, 1926. Courtesy of Dominican Sisters of Peace. Via Ohio Memory.

Early Christmas cards in the United States, much like their counterparts in England, often did not depict particularly “winter” or “holiday” images, but rather images such as candles and animals, or perhaps flowers. It was not until later that they became more Christmas specific with images such as Santa. By 1915 Christmas cards were a flourishing industry in the US and around the world, with companies like Hallmark (previously called the Hall Brothers Company) growing in popularity. Cards were commonly sent during this period, such as the one above from a soldier to home while he was abroad during Christmas amidst the first World War.

As Christmas cards grew in popularity, the images depicted changed and by the 1920s nativity scenes and other biblical imagery became popular as well, such as the image below, featuring baby Jesus and his mother, Mary. Despite the imagery change, the greetings in cards from the past often remain the same, with simple messages for peace on earth and wishing others a happy time during the holidays and at the new year.

Melhorn Family, Toledo, Ohio, ca. 1965. Courtesy of Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Via Ohio Memory.

It was not until the 1960s that a shift in Christmas cards began once again. Instead of the traditional cards with artist’s renderings of flowers, or biblical scenes, it became more popular to feature one’s family on the cover. Such as the Melhorn family’s Christmas

card from the 1960s. Today, it is common still for families to send cards featuring family photos and to add the family’s accomplishments and tidings for the new year to the back, rather than the more generic holiday greetings devised originally by Cole.

For a closer look at Christmas cards over the years and the heart felt messages on them, through years of war and of peace, search Ohio Memory.

Thank you to Lauren Kennedy, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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