Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Harlequins, Holly and Robins

Looking Back

Image: archives-pic_cropped.jpg

Wednesday December 20 2017

Harlequins, Holly and Robins

Writing in 1967, Jean Maclaren Smith, considers the subjects of Christmas cards.

Robins and holly boughs, stage coaches and Olde English Inns; reproductions of “old masters”; puppies in a basket; bowls of flowers; what is your idea of a real Christmas card?

These basic themes are sure to crop up in your Christmas mail this and every year – even though they are not your taste.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, on the 9th December, 1842, the first Christmas card for commercial distribution was produced, designed by a 16-year-old boy, William Egley. This card reflected Christmas in no fewer than eight scenes – the festive board and party games, skating on the ice, giving food to the poor, writing and reading seasonable greetings, carol singing, Punch and Judy. All that plus harlequins, holly, robins and mistletoe.

Maybe you prefer a more direct allusion to the message going forth at this time – a Nativity scene and text?

Increased Demand

Church of Scotland bookshops (in Ayr, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow) have all shown steady increases in the sale of religious cards over the past few years, and a firm of Scottish publishers specialising in religious cards say that the rise in sales is “not spectacular, but consistent.” Another big firm say that almost 30 per cent of their Christmas range is religious, and that the demand increases at the same rate as other designs.

Religious cards

Thus it is probably that the walls of my living room will display ten or a dozen religious cards where a decade ago there would only have been one or two.

Children seem to see the religious aspect more clearly than adults. “Save the Children Fund” and a woman’s weekly magazine invited children to design a Christmas card; and of the cross section published, almost half were based on the New Testament story.

In 1965 the Post Office issued two air letter forms. A Nativity scene sold 800,000 compared with 500,000 of a snowflake design. Last year Santa Claus had it all to himself. This year it will be interesting to see how the Three Wise Men fare against a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Previous: Call for Nuclear Weapons Stoppage

Looking Back menu