|Our Christmas card picture|
|First Christmas Card|
Early English cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, instead favoring flowers, fairies and other fanciful designs that reminded the recipient of the approach of spring. Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were popular, as were increasingly elaborate shapes, decorations and materials. In 1875 Louis Prang became the first printer to offer cards in America, though the popularity of his cards led to cheap imitations that eventually drove him from the market. The advent of the postcard spelled the end for elaborate Victorian-style cards, but by the 1920s, cards with envelopes had returned.
The production of Christmas cards was, throughout the 20th century, a profitable business for many stationery manufacturers, with the design of cards continually evolving with changing tastes and printing techniques. The World Wars brought cards with patriotic themes. Idiosyncratic "studio cards" with cartoon illustrations and sometimes risque humor caught on in the 1950s. Nostalgic, sentimental, and religious images have continued in popularity, and, in the 21st century, reproductions of Victorian and Edwardian cards are easy to obtain. Modern Christmas cards can be bought individually but are also sold in packs of the same or varied designs. In recent decades changes in technology may be responsible for the decline of the Christmas card. The estimated number of cards received by American households dropped from 29 in 1987 to 20 in 2004. Email and telephones allow for more frequent contact and are easier for generations raised without handwritten letters - especially given the availability of websites offering free email Christmas cards. Despite the decline, 1.9 billion cards were sent in the U.S. in 2005 alone. Some card manufacturers, such as Hallmark, now provide E-cards. In the UK, Christmas cards account for almost half of the volume of greeting card sales, with over 668.9 million Christmas cards sold in the 2008 festive period.
"Official" Christmas cards began with Queen Victoria in the 1840s. The British royal family's cards are generally portraits reflecting significant personal events of the year. In 1953, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first official White House card. The cards usually depict White House scenes as rendered by prominent American artists. The number of recipients has snowballed over the decades, from just 2,000 in 1961 to 1.4 million in 2005.
|Eisenhower Christmas Card|
Some people take the annual mass mailing of cards as an opportunity to update those they know with the year's events, and include the so-called "Christmas letter" reporting on the family's doings, sometimes running to multiple printed pages. While a practical notion, Christmas letters meet with a mixed reception; recipients may take it as boring minutiae, bragging, or a combination of the two, whereas other people appreciate Christmas letters as more personal than mass produced cards with a generic missive and an opportunity to "catch up" with the lives of family and friends who are rarely seen or communicated with. Since the letter will be received by both close and distant relatives, there is also the potential for the family members to object to how they are presented to others; an entire episode of Everybody Loves Raymond was built around conflict over the content of just such a letter.