Victorian Christmas Cards, Holiday Weirdness

Brian H. Gill's 'Christmas at the Lemming's.' (2015)
The Two Turkeys watching “Wayne and Wanda’s Eggnog Nightmare.” (2015)

I’ll be sharing some very odd 19th century Christmas cards today. And rambling a bit about holidays, history and whatever else comes to mind. Briefly, for me.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve: a Double-Header Solstice Celebration

'Twelfth Night Merry-Making in Farmer Shakeshaft's Barn,' from Ainsworth's Mervyn Clitheroe, by PhizMany if not all folks who experience non-equatorial seasons where they live have some sort of winter solstice celebration.

My native culture has two: Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Although decorations for each are distinctive, we celebrate both in about the same way: gathering in large groups and making a lot of noise. With a recovery period of about a week between them, most of us can thoroughly enjoy both.

Weather permitting, which it very likely won’t this year. And that’s another topic, which I may or may not get around to discussing.

Our Christmas celebration has changed over the years. I expect it will keep changing, except for parts of a very special birthday celebration. I talked about that a few days back. You’ll find a link to “Advent 2022: Remembering the Big Picture” near the end of this post.

Some of the changes involve technology: like television Christmas/holiday specials, which often present my culture’s “true meaning of Christmas.”

Then there’s a more recent development, which hasn’t become a fixed tradition. Not as far as I know, at any rate.

Anyway, here’s last year’s “Happy Holidays from Expedition 66” — a cool yule from low Earth orbit.

Celebrating a Secular Selection of Seasonal Salutations

Brian H. Gill's 'Holiday Viewing Marathon.' (2015)
“Holiday Viewing Marathon” (2015)

Brian H. Gill's Wayne and Wanda 'Gingerbread, Fruitcake and Eggnog Nightmare Number 1.' (2010)Holiday/Christmas videos from the ISS may not join traditions like ‘Freezeroni Saves Christmas’ and plum pudding: since the ISS is due to be deorbited in 2031.

And that’s yet another topic.

I’m giving myself a few days off this week, so today’s piece won’t have the usual ‘for more information’ footnotes. And I haven’t done nearly as much digital footwork, like tracing where each of these Victorian-era masterpieces (?) came from.

But, since you might feel like doing some sleuthing yourself, here’s where I got most of today’s stuff:

The Very First Christmas Card: 1843

Sir Henry Cole's Christmas card: the first one sent. Designed by John Calcott Horsely, R.A. (1843)
Sir Henry Cole’s Christmas Card: first of its kind. (1843)

The plum pudding’s origins may be obscure, or maybe they’re not. I haven’t checked.

But we do know who had the first mass-produced Christmas card printed, and when he changed at least one aspect of our holiday celebrations.

Sir Henry Cole was an assistant to Sir Rowland Hill. That’s a lot of “Sirs,” and obviously both lived in England.

Sirs H.C. and R.H. were implicated in the introduction of the penny post. I think making postal service affordable to folks in my economic class was a good idea: but I wouldn’t be surprised if some staunch Victorians saw it as the end of civilization as they knew it.

If so, they were right, and that’s yet again another topic.

Anyway, Henry Cole was a celebrity of sorts. He got a lot of letters around the Christmas season, which may have felt good. But his culture’s customs demanded that he answer each letter, which would have cut seriously into what little free time he had.

So Henry Cole had painter John Callott Horsley design a card, which was then lithographed in a print run of 1,000 cards. Then each card was hand-colored by Mason. Whether or not Mason had more than one name, that I don’t know.

Marching Frogs, a Dead Bird and Other Weirdness

Marching frogs.

Sir Henry Cole’s celebrity status, new printing technologies, and an increasing number of folks who had a bit of spare change left over at month’s end added a flood of these newfangled Christmas cards to the season’s celebrations.

I gather that many Christmas cards followed Sir H. C.’s sentimental lead.

Some did not.

'May Yours be a Joyful Christmas' - card with a picture of a dead bird. Seems there's a Victorian tradition: killing a wren or robin for good luck on December 26th.
“May yours be a Joyful Christmas.”

That dead bird and “Joyful” caption may have been an instance of Victorian passive-aggressive behavior. Or may have been seriously sentimental.

Killing a wren or robin for good luck on December 26th may have been a Victorian tradition, but that’s something I haven’t verified.

A message; 'Paix, Joie, Santé, Bonheur' (Peace, Joy, Health, and Happiness); carried by a mouse riding a lobster.

No, you’re not hallucinating. That’s a mouse riding a lobster and carrying a banner emblazoned with “Peace, Joy, Health, and Happiness” — in French.

Birds bearing torches. 'May all jollity lighten your Christmas hours.'

“May all jollity ‘Lighten’ your Christmas hours.”

Whew! That’s a relief. It looked, at first glance, like an avian mob with torches — on their way to pick up pitchforks.

Frogs who went skating when their mother said 'no.'

That’s a card with a moral message: mamma said “no,” and now the frogs know why.

Greeting card: frogs and insects dancing.

More frogs. Being merry with insects this time. I’ve no idea why so many of these oddball Christmas cards involve frogs.

Maybe Victorians had a thing about frogs. Maybe these just happen to be the cards that got preserved, or maybe something completely different.

Tally ho! A fox hunt involving a wooden horse. (ca. 1880)

Another “joyful Christmas to you” card. I’m not sure which wins the strangeness race in this one: a fox that’s so slow that the two hunters are keeping up, the two hunters keeping up with a fox: or a wooden horse that’s breathing.

A wooden horse. That’s breathing. Now there’s an idea.

And that’s all I have this week.

I said I’d have a link at this point. Here it is, along with four others.

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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One Response to Victorian Christmas Cards, Holiday Weirdness

  1. I can see those oddball postcards fitting in with today’s also retro-powered meme culture. XD

Thanks for taking time to comment!