The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 9: The Victorians? Yep. Still Weird.

Do you guys send out Christmas cards? I know people who still do. And like so many of our holiday customs, it started with the Victorians. Exchanging greeting cards with relatives, friends and neighbors originated over 170 years ago in Victorian Britain, at a time when early Christmas rituals like carols were being revived and new customs embraced. The first commercial Christmas card was introduced by Sir Henry Cole, an inventor who had helped launch the Uniform Penny Post in January 1840. Previously, postage had been prohibitively expensive, but the penny post made sending things through the post office much more affordable for the average person. On May 1, 1843, Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to design a special card for people to send at Christmas. Horsley’s picture of a well-to-do family enjoying a lavish meal and raising their wine glasses was reportedly controversial, considered irreligious by some. That didn’t stop people sending them, though. The novelty was too much to resist, and people were thrilled at this new way to send greetings. Two runs of Horsley’s cards were printed, totalling 2,050, and all sold within that year at one shilling each. The Christmas card tradition was born. New advances in color-printing processes revolutionised the industry. Soon, high quality printed cards became more widely affordable and 11.5 million cards were produced in 1880 alone.

Many of these cards featured scenes that we’d be okay with sending out today. Picturesque country churches, their windows glowing with soft golden light, snowy landscapes, angels bearing stars, cute animals and adorable snowmen, and families celebrating the holiday were pretty standard fare. Some of the cards were even embossed with gold and silver leaf. But as people started sending out more and more of these cards, they wanted different scenes on them. Some of these other cards were just plain bizarre.

“But Sylvia,” I hear you say, “how weird can Christmas cards really be?”

How about murderous frogs, children boiled alive, and assorted random strangeness?

The Victorians, as we’ve seen, had … different ideas about how to celebrate the holidays. Victorian Christmas cards might feature a frog shivving another frog. They might depict a child in a teapot — and not looking very happy about it. Insects were a popular motif. And others … well, just see for yourself.

Uhhhh … ohhh-kayyyy …

Sure, why not?

‘Cause yeah, this just screams “Christmas” …

Well. That was … interesting. See, I learn just as much as you guys do when I do research for these blog posts.

Can’t get enough weird? There’s loads more over at Weird Darkness. You should meander over there and look.


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