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.
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.
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.
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.