The ‘war on Christmas’ is older than we think

I just found out that the War on Christmas has been going on much longer than most of us realize. Not only were Christmas trees a pagan German tradition introduced to England by Victoria’s husband; not only does the holiday itself have deep pagan roots in the turning of the year; but also the first Christmas card was non-religious!

First Christmas card, illustrated by John Horsley

It was printed in 1843 for Henry Cole, who didn’t have time to write long letters to all his friends. The card is illustrated by John Horsley with two scenes of charity and gift-giving to the poor, flanking a large holiday dinner in which almost everyone is holding a glass of wine. One of those too young to hold her own glass, a little girl of about three, is being given a drink from her mother’s glass. There’s a seasonal greeting and a lot of ivy twined around the scenes. No Christ, no manger, no wise men, no Star of Bethlehem, no religion. The remaining Puritans objected to the scene of jollity and booze and destroyed the original cards as harmful to society. Consequently, only ten of the First Christmas Card are known to exist (information from the BBC’s Victorian Farm Christmas).

However, the idea quickly caught on among other busy folk with lots of friends; by 1877 the Brits were sending 4.5 million each year. The custom was spread by the new rail travel for sending the post and lower postal rates for Christmas cards and postcards (more from the BBC’s Victorian Farm Christmas).

I think it’s clear that the essence of the midwinter holiday is a shared feast to cheer us up during the dark days of the winter solstice, including sharing with the less fortunate members of the community. Long may we celebrate it!

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