A Brief History of Creepy Victorian Christmas Cards

 A Brief History of Creepy Victorian Christmas Cards


When you browse the vacation playing cards stuffing your mailbox at this time, you’ll doubtless discover photographs of smiling households, serene woodland scenes, or evergreen bushes wrapped with twinkling lights. However if you happen to acquired a Christmas card within the late nineteenth century, there’s an excellent probability you’d end up taking a look at a picture of a useless hen.

In response to Hallmark, about 1.3 billion Christmas cards are despatched every year. We’ve the Victorians to thank for kicking off the custom of sending a seasonal card, although vacation greetings have modified fairly a bit over the centuries. Those that had been despatched in Britain within the late 1800s had been typically a lot darker than these we trade at this time; in truth, a number of the designs had been downright creepy

A Victorian Christmas and New Year card from 1874 showing a smiling Christmas pudding topped with holly surrounded by two adu

It didn’t take the Victorian lengthy to start out getting inventive with their robin imagery. / whitemay/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Pictures

Till the 1840s, sending playing cards of any kind by submit in Britain wasn’t widespread, just because it was too costly. That modified with the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840, which decreed that any letter weighing beneath half an oz may very well be despatched for the price of a single penny.

It was an enormous boon for the postal service—and it additionally made spreading some vacation cheer simpler, as sending playing cards to mark explicit seasons and occasions had turn out to be rather more inexpensive. The first commercial Christmas card was subsequently designed by John Calcott Horsley and despatched by Henry Cole in 1843. It featured a cheerful household gathered round a desk, illustrated above the message “A Merry Christmas and a Glad New 12 months to you.”

It was the form of joyful picture you’d sometimes count on with a vacation greeting. Some sorts of Christmas card photos had been as common in Victorian instances as they’re at this time—along with that preliminary glad household, there was additionally a fair proportion of playing cards displaying basic heartwarming scenes, like lovely animals and snowmen. However because the novelty of with the ability to ship Christmas playing cards regularly wore off, folks started to starvation for a wider range of images.

Victorian Christmas card showing a mouse riding a lobster

Reindeer are overrated, anyway. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

This led to Victorian Christmas playing cards that seem extra unsettling to the trendy eye. Folks despatched and acquired ones that confirmed, amongst different odd photos, the aftermath of one frog murdering another, a plate of useless birds, and people rising from the stomachs of creepy snowmen. Additionally featured had been weird photos of animals, fruits, and greens, corresponding to sinister walking potatoes and Christmas dinner elements dancing to the music of a violin-playing rabbit.

Along with the sheer novelty of all of it, media consideration additionally performed a job within the number of unconventional Christmas playing cards. Some newspapers ran critiques of every season’s designs, in the best way that movies could be reviewed at this time, which elevated the urgency for designers to create ever extra unusual imagery as a way to be aggressive. 

The darkish nature of a number of the photos additionally displays variations between Victorian values and people of at this time. The inclusion of photos of dead robins is unsettling for us, however for folks of that period, it was meant to indicate an excellent luck ritual that was typically carried out: To have fun St. Stephen’s Day (the day after Christmas), folks would kill a small hen, typically both a robin or a wren. Sending those images of the deceased beasts was truly meant to bestow success.

These extra uncommon Victorian Christmas playing cards could also be off-putting at this time, however they seize a snapshot of historical past. If something, they’re a reminder to be grateful that your annual batch of vacation greetings doesn’t embody any nightmare-inducing imagery.


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