Humor Alert! If you don't have a sense of humor or can't take a good natured ribbing about the British or your grandmother's fruitcake, we recommend skipping this article entirely and reading our article about the history of Christmas Cards from which all humorous elements have been excised.
You have been warned.
Christmas Cards, official items printed with a Christmas message and sent to wish others a “A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”, were first printed in England in 1843 making them as old as the opera Don Pasquale, the United Free Church of Scotland, the British colony of Natal, a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and your grandmother's fruit cake.
Sir Henry Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to create the first Christmas card. Sir Cole must have had a lot of friends and a lot of free time since he had 1000 printed. Unfortunately, he didn't give thought to the sensibilities of the times setting off what could be one of the earliest politically correct protests when temperance groups objected to the image on the card depicting a child drinking wine with his family. In our family we believe that children shouldn't have liquor until they are at least three so the temperance protest is understandable.
It should also be noted that the first card didn't actually include an image of anything religious proving that the English are a bunch godless heathens only interested in selling tea and the worst food on the planet.
Actually, if you look carefully at the card you will see some unhappy figures on the edges. Sir Cole was very concerned about the poor in England and wanted to remind his friends to do something charitable during the Christmas season so he had these cards sent instead of handwriting individual letters. (This is true). (So was most everything else I said so far).
Americans, always quick to copy the British in everything except military tactics, started mailing cards in 1845/6 but had to import them from Europe for thirty years until someone figured out that yes, Christmas cards can be printed outside of the British Isles. Louis Prang, a German immigrant, started selling multi-colored Christmas cards in Europe in 1865 and started selling them in the United States in 1875. Within six years he was producing over five-million cards a year. That's equivalent to 10% of the US population at the time.
The first home-photograph card was introduced by Kodak in 1902 which has made it possible for everyone to see how great your family and dog look in matching sweaters.
The first White House Christmas card was sent in 1953 when Dwight Eisenhower was president. Just another reason why everyone liked Ike. The cards were sent to 2000 of his most personal friends. White House Christmas cards now get sent to about 1.6 million people which kind of takes away the thrill of getting one.
If you send Christmas cards, you aren't alone. The average US household receives an estimated 20 cards a year, down from 27 in the 80's and 1.9 billion, yes that's with a “b”, Christmas cards are sent in the US each year.
We recommend visiting the Christmas card gallery to see some examples of antique cards.
If you want to help the US get to 2 billion cards sent each year, we recommend browsing our Christmas card section with a giving heart.