David Tucker takes a look at the origins of Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, Christmas trees and the Wren Boys…

SOME of our Christmas customs and traditions date back thousands of years to Pagan times, others are more recent inventions, some a little over 100 years old.

The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. Cole, a senior civil servant who had helped set-up the new ‘Public Record Office’ (now called the Post Office), where he was an Assistant Keeper, and who wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people.

Cole and his friend John Horsley, who was an artist, designed the first cards and sold them for 1 shilling each. The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the centre panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner. Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine.
The first postal service that ordinary people could use was started in 1840 when the first ‘Penny Post’ public postal deliveries began. Before then only rich people could afford to send anything in the post. The new Post Office was able to offer a Penny stamp because new railways were being built.

These could carry much more post than the horse and carriage that had been used before.
Christmas cards became more popular as printing methods and transportation improved and were produced in large numbers from about 1860. The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins and snow-scenes became popular.

The first known ‘personalised’ Christmas Card was sent in 1891 by Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter and star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. She was in Glasgow, Scotland at Christmas 1891 and sent cards back to her friends and family in the USA featuring a photo of her on it. She reportedly designed the cards herself.

Christmas Trees

THE origins of what we now know as Christmas trees, dates back thousands of years to celebrate winter festivals by Pagans and Christians. Pagans used branches of evergreen fir trees to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use them as a sign of everlasting life with God.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own