Controversial Christmas Merry-Making

It’s that time of year once again. The giant balloons have bobbed down 6th Avenue leading Santa to Macy’s on 34th. The door buster Black Friday deals (many of which now start on Thanksgiving Thursday) have largely expired. Even the last of the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie has finally been consumed.

Now the lighted Christmas geese have landed in the front yard. A large artificial evergreen resides in my living room, topped with a blinking star and candy cane. As I look around at my glittery surroundings, I’m filled with nostalgia and anticipation.

Maybe if I just e-mail a picture of this beautiful homemade card to all the people on my list, that could count? photo credit: peace via photopin (license)

And also panic. As much as I have accomplished in the past week to prepare for the coming holiday, I’m also staring down a long list of to-do’s. In the coming weeks I’ll be baking and hosting and shopping and gifting. My oldest son will celebrate a birthday and I will clean my house. A lot.

It’s only the third day of December and I already feel hopelessly behind. Because this past Tuesday, on the very first day of this busiest of months, I received my first Christmas card. It’s a lovely card, featuring pictures of dear friends and their beautiful smiling children who are growing up too fast.

I do appreciate when friends take time out of their busy schedules to wish us well at the holidays. I’m just also a little jealous that they’ve marked card-sending off their list when I’ve barely gotten organized enough to include it on mine.

Cole’s controversially merry card would have cost you six cents in 1843. At Sotheby’s in 2010, it would have cost you seven thousand dollars. [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I have included it, though, and thanks to Sir Henry Cole, British civil servant, inventor, and all-around impressive guy, I’ll get to it. By 1843, the tradition of handwriting special holiday greetings was well-established, but Cole was a busy man. He decided to take a short-cut and commissioned his friend, painter John Calcott Horsely, to design a commercial card. Cole ordered a thousand of them, sent some to his list, and sold the rest for six cents apiece.

The move was not without controversy. The more religiously zealous of the day declared the design a war on Christmas because in addition to images of service to the poor, it portrayed holiday merry-making. And I’m sure there were a disappointed few who’d have preferred hand-painted burlap evergreens and artistically arranged lettering.

Henry Cole is also sometimes credited with the introduction of the word’s first adhesive postage stamp. The idea to make them Christmas-y came later. [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But Cole didn’t let the naysayers get him down. Over the next few years, the commercial Christmas card market soared. Though it’s waned somewhat with the increase in electronic forms of communication, it seems (from a random sampling of my mailbox) the tradition is still alive and well.


I wish my friends and family could expect hand-painted burlap evergreens and artistically arranged lettering, but they probably know better. I’m sure I will receive a few such lovingly crafted greetings and I may feel a twinge of guilt for sending commercially produced cards. Still, I will get around to sending a holiday greeting of some sort. It might feature controversial Christmas merry-making. It will likely include a picture of my beautiful smiling children who are growing up too fast.

And there’s almost definitely a very small chance it will even arrive before the new year.


9 thoughts on “Controversial Christmas Merry-Making

  1. Sarah, you are so far ahead of most of us. I gave up posting Christmas cards years ago, but still used to hand deliver to close family (until they all moved to Australia) and friends. This year I’m in Australia so I might do the hand-delivering thing again in earnest. Why not, it’s Christmas, after all…

    1. I know. Every year I consider letting it go, but I like receiving them so much that I feel guilty if I don’t send them, too. And we’ve moved quite a bit so we have dear friends all over the country now. I guess it feels like we’re closer if I go through the effort.

  2. What a lovely, if controversial, card. And yours is as well. I am torn about card sending – I prefer to wish a “Merry Christmas” in person. But like you, we have friends all over the country who otherwise won’t hear the wish for them. Some I am connected with on social media, so that works for the wish, but not so much for the personal sentiment. I LOVE receiving the photo cards but I have no need to update my own cards (no kids nor grands to show off). So I usually make a point to send just a few, to those friends I don’t see in person, and to my mother, who loves to receive cards to display.

    1. Alas, I can’t really claim this one as my own. I am kind of all over the place with Christmas cards. Some years I have designed really pretty homemade ones, others I have written a letter. Sometimes I send pictures, sometimes I don’t. The years we’ve moved, I have sent Thanksgiving cards so that people have our new address. Other years, it doesn’t happen until the new year. I do like to send them, though, and I prefer to send something somewhat unique. I get the habit from my mom who has always sent very creative, homemade cards unlike anyone else I know. Of course I also remember her being very stressed about them at times.

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