For decades besides the traditions of decorating the house and tree, inviting friends over for gatherings and attending various Christmas musical events, one of the most loved traditions I have is the selecting, writing sentiments and addressing Christmas cards.

I have learned, as we get older, we tend to become more nostalgic and nothing brings out true nostalgia for me than to go through Christmas cards of decades past.

          Being the collector I am, it has long been a habit to bundle my Christmas cards from one year to the next and store them in my attic.  With the advent of Monroe’s recent birthday coming in on the Christmas season, I felt the need to revisit some of the oldest packs of greeting cards from fifty plus years ago and relive happy times looking through cards from friends in Monroe, friends from college and friends I made during my early working years.

These cards rest in three large boxes where they were placed years ago. This past weekend I brought down the oldest box which dated back to the late fifties, sixties and seventies and began looking through each card as the memories came flooding back with each one I read. Almost all the folks who sent the cards are long gone now, so being able to read their sentiments and remember them at a specific time was doubly meaningful.

          Of course I remembered with great fondness the Monroe folks who sent cards and the others, friends I had at the time and had not thought of in years that rang special thoughts and feelings for me.

The notes in the cards is what is so special for me as I recalled a particular moment in time which was being written about or friends from far away who brought me up to date with what was happening in their lives as they remembered special times and events when in town and visiting with me in Atlanta.   

          The other, more recent boxes of cards will be saved for another Christmas to enjoy long past visits and memories from the 1980’s to the present.

          Back in the day, prior to the advent of modern technology where ecards are becoming more the norm, opening your mailbox during Christmas and finding it stuffed with holiday greetings always brought a smile to my face.  Racing back in the house I could not open the cards fast enough; some of those who sent cards I immediately knew from their handwriting or where the card was mailed from.  They would be placed in a brass tray on a table and how exciting it would be to watch the stack grow from day to day as more cards came in.

          In today’s world, folks are in such a frantic hurry to do so many things, taking time to select the right cards to send out to friends and then taking the time to write a note or sentiment in the card and sign your name and address the envelope seems to be more than a body can handle, so it is quicker and easier to send an ecard.  For me while an ecard is appreciated, it just doesn’t hold the thrill and excitement of having an actual card in your hand to read and sometimes reread.

          So far I have staunchly refused to adhere to these new rules of sending ecards.  It is an important part of the holiday for me to seek out a store with a nice selection of cards and find just the right ones that convey the message I want and then spend an evening at the kitchen table, sipping hot cider and listening to Christmas music as I inscribe each card and address the envelope then taking the batch to the nearby post office and drop them in the slot.

          Back in “Old Monroe”, there were several folks in town who were the ones we would go to when it came time to select our cards.  These folks represented various card companies who would send their reps a huge, thick catalog of fifty or sixty pages of cards of every size, shape and description to choose from.  And the more you bought the cheaper they were to order.  Another plus in selecting your cards this way was you could have your cards stamped with your name so all that was needed was to write a sentiment, or not, address the envelope, put a stamp on it and drop it in the mailbox.

          My Aunt Ruby, the city librarian, was one of those who folks went to in late October and early November for their cards.  They would come to the library where Ruby had her big sample book on a table.  They would look through the book, select one or more cards and Ruby would fill out an order form as to the number of cards, if their names were to be stamped on the card and off the order would go.  In late November the cards arrived and Ruby would notify those who placed an order and payment would be made upon delivery.

          After looking through so many beautiful cards each with a specific memory, I wondered how the tradition of Christmas cards came to be.  Checking my source books on Christmas I learned the following about the Christmas card.

          One of the “historians of Christmas”, Jonathan Green had the following to say on how the Christmas card evolved:

          “Because the giving and receiving of cards is so inextricably linked to Christmas, it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have Christmas cards. But we have to take into consideration the Christmas cards are linked to the postal service.  Without the postal service there would be no way of sending all those sack loads of cards and a reliable postal service wasn’t created until the mid-1800’s.  As a result, the greeting card didn’t appear until the Victorian era either.

          The exchanging of illustrated greeting cards on special occasions itself can be traced back to the Romans and even the Ancient Egyptians before them.  These were not the cards as we know them today.  In the fifteenth century engravers began printing special Christmas picture to sell during the festive period.  In the Victorian era it was a popular practice for people to send hand-drawn “Christmas sheets” to their friends and family.  These were  pictures on single sheets of paper with space left for the sender to add his or her name.  It also became popular at the time for well to do members of society to add a printed Christmas message to the calling cards they presented on visiting the house of another well-to-do person.

          The first true commercial Christmas card didn’t go on sale until 1843.  It was printed at the behest of Sir Henry Cole, a businessman and philanthropist.  It was Cold who also first came up with the idea of perforated edges for stamps.

          Cole commissioned artist John Callcott Horsley to produce the image for the front, which showed a family party, along with vignettes of people carrying out charitable acts for the poor. It also bore the message, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You!”  The black and white card then had to be hand colored.  The cards sold for pennies and Cole managed to shift nearly a thousand of them.  The Christmas card had arrived and was an instant hit.  It was the Victorians who demanded the cards become more elaborate and various styles and types of cards were produced.

          In 1880, the post office made its first-ever plea to “Post early for Christmas.”  Nearly ten years prior, in 1871, one newspaper complained that the delivery of business mail was being delayed because of the sheer volume of Christmas cards piling up in post offices.  In 1873 people began publishing advertisements in newspapers wishing their friends the very best for the festive season and stating they would not be sending Christmas cards that year. As the years passed and the interest and fascination with Christmas cards grew, December became one of the busiest times for the post office with millions of cards being sent each year”

A vintage card to me from 1980 carries the sentiment we all wish to express at this time of year…..”To those we love and cherish at Christmastime.”