An old Christmas card

“There’s an old Christmas card in an old dusty trunk And it brings back sweet memories dear to me ’Though it’s faded and worn, it’s as precious as the morn When I found it ‘neath our first Christmas tree ...”

— An old Christmas Card, song by Jim Reeves, 1963

Christmas is only a few days away and I have just realized (this happens every year!) that it is too late to send paper Christmas cards by post. Thanks God everyone that I know has an e-mail and it is never too late to send my Christmas greetings electronically everywhere in the world! We take this for granted nowadays, but if my imagination goes back to when my grandmother was a young woman in the 1940s, I soon realize how lucky we are to have the electronic mail today.

However, I personally prefer paper cards to e-mails as I cannot forget the feel of the material, the act of turning it to read what is written on the back, the surprise of looking at the sender’s name and I cannot absolutely do without sniffing the smell of the paper. The moods that touching the traditional cards cause to me are beyond compare, whilst I have always found the greetings sent by e-mail a little cold and distant.

Last week, I went to my parents for dinner and while we were talking about their old memories from past Christmas, after dinner, we decided to go through boxes of old photos. We had some laugh reviewing those old pictures from 1970s and it was funny to joke on how weird and bizarre people used to dress during the Bee Gees “Saturday Night Fever” years. Then, when I came upon a ton of ancient pictures and greeting cards from my great grandmother and my grandmother, ranging from the 1920s to the early 1960s, I definitely stopped laughing at and became curious.

The Christmas cards caught my attention the most: they were stuck into albums, glued on every page and protected by a transparent envelop. Even if well protected, some of them have yellowed, browned, ripped and wrinkled over time. Very few of them I found in very good condition.

An unused 1920s greetings postcard I found in an old box at my parents house.

A Christmas postcard sent to my great grandmother on 24.12. 1920.

Christmas cards through the decades

The Victorian Age

The first postcards were produced in the late 1800s, during the Victorian Age and they were known for being detailed and elaborate cards. Only few wealthy people could afford cameras, so postcards seemed to be the only way to capture the images of visited places.

During the Victorian period, greetings cards were hand painted by noted artists and featured elaborate scenes, floral motifs, animals and other designs. But, for the fact they were hand painted, they were expensive and most of people could not afford them. 

The world's first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843

A hand painted Victorian Christmas card

A beautiful Christmas postcard

The 1920s

Even though the crazy 1920s, best known as the Roaring Twenties, are most known for the willing of modernity and libertarian Flappers dancing the Charleston wearing shorter skirts, the Christmas cards during this wild decade were quite traditional, even nostalgic for earlier times.  Although “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens was first published in 1843 during the Victorian Age, many scenes from this tale were often used during the 1920s: snowy landscapes, the climbing ivy, old lanterns lit by candlelight as well as cheerful kids playing in the snow or by the Christmas tree.

The 1930s

On October 29th 1929, the Stock Market crashed. The prosperity and the economic growth of the past decade seemed a distant memory compared to the economic recession of the 1930s. Many companies went bankruptcy and millions of workers suddenly lost their jobs.

The Great Depression had officially started with the financial crash. It was a period of austerity for everybody, companies were forced to reduce costs so that also Christmas cards were cheaper and the design was less detailed. The result was a very different look from the cheerful and joyful greetings cards from the 1920s. 

During the Great Depression of the 1930s Christmas cards were less cheerful, reflecting the mood of this dark period. The blue ink was often used because it was cheaper.

Man’s little friends were often the subject of Christmas cards during the 1930s. Designers probably saw them as a means for keeping the morale high during the economic recession.

Softer and less brilliant colours were used for this 1930s greetings card.

The 1940s

The Great Depression ended with the advent of World War II. That government spending to finance the war accelerated the recovery from the Great Depression, as it did help in reducing unemployment.  The World War II finally ended on September 1945, and people felt the need to celebrate the victory. The positivity towards life and the wish of a new beginning could be seen on greetings cards of that December 1945. They were celebratory and cheerful. Smiling images and bells of victory are featured on Christmas cards of all types.

Bells of victory were featured on Christmas cards of all types. Blue, red and white stars recall the USA flag clolours.

Smiling images, such as the snowy couple Mr. and Mrs. Snowman, were also popular in the 1940s.

Patriotism is more noticeable, with red, white and blue commonly used in cards along with traditional green.

USA flag on a typical Christmas snowy landscape to celebrate the WWII victory.

The 1950s

The Fifties were the years of economic boom. Economy was growing, and the fruits of this prosperity (new cars, suburban houses and other consumer goods) were available to more people than ever before. Colourful Christmas trees as well as Santa Claus, depicted in various interpretation, took centre stage in cards. 

This image of Santa Claus represents perfectly the economic boom of the 1950s, a period of prosperity and economic growth.

Christmas cards often represented the traditional american family by the tree. This was a reflection of the baby boom which took place during the 1950s.

Christmas advertising through the decades

Advertising can be very powerful and persuasive: it makes us laugh or it makes us cry as it appeal to three innate emotions: love, fear and rage. Advertising can make us spend a lot of hard-earned money on stuff we think we need very soon in our life and that we later wonder if we even need at all. Christmas is probably the time of the year were we, as consumers, are bombarded the most with advertising of every kind and not just on television but also on social medias and on the internet: pop-up ads, banner ads, autoplay ads with motion/sound, ads that interfere with page layout, ads on Facebook, even dating site ads. Not just it can be really annoying to see those unexpected ads on your computer but it can get self-defeating for companies! Too much advertising can cause the opposite effect on consumers, which can get really bored about being non-stop targeted in such way.  I think that the advertising of past decades (let's say until the 1960s) were more effective because there were less ads of higher quality. They were so well made that some of them we can still remember today. 

Some of the ads here below are from the golden age of Christmas advertising. And I would mention what my grandmother used to say about advertising: “They don’t make them like they used to”. How to blame her?!


Late 1800s Durham Cigar Store Company Christmas advertisement, 1880

Santa Claus Sugar Plums, 1868


Cover of the Eaton’s department store Christmas catalogue for 1906