As soon as Thanksgiving is over in the United States, we turn the calendar page on November and arrive at the most wonderful time of the year: December. It is a month that is centered on celebration. It is also the season for reflecting on the previous year and reaching out to family and friends, near and far. In the digital age, there is perhaps nothing more special than opening one’s mailbox to a holiday card or letter from someone dear to you hiding in the solicitations and bills. But, where did the tradition of sending greeting cards come from and why do we send them this time of year more than any other?
A short history…
Clay tablets with greetings were found that date soon after the invention of writing itself. In Bronze Age China and Egypt, personalized messages were sent to others celebrating the New Year. These were sent with the intention of giving the recipient the power to ward off evil spirits for the entire year. They were also a way to celebrate the life cycle that begins with a new year and a wish of good luck. In the 14th century there was a Germanic tradition of sending handmade cards with short wishes of good fortune for the new year, but it was mostly reserved for the upper classes as materials were expensive.
In the mid-19th century innovations in mechanized printing and mass production, coupled with better postal routes and cheaper postal rates led to an increase in personal mail.
In 1843, the first known Christmas card was created and sent. Now, over 175 years later we are still sending them!
The card printed for Sir Henry Cole who had given the idea for such a card to printer John Calcott Horsely. Performer Annie Oakley was the first to send personalized greetings to friends and loved ones back home when the holidays found her overseas. Since it was still an extravagant proposition, holiday greeting cards remained uncommon until the 1860’s when they began to be mass-produced and a full fledged part of the holiday season.
Today, postal services all over the world go into overdrive to get mail delivered between the end of November through the first weeks of the new year, harkening back to the well wishes of the ancient civilizations and the first mass mailings in the modern age.
Fitting for the season, the resin of the Esterbrook Estie in Tortoise and Evergreen elicit feelings of beautiful trees dusted with snow; their gold and silver clips the trim and ornaments on a Christmas tree. Matching inks in shades of brown and hunter green are reminiscent of pine cones and pine needles.
It is such a joyous occasion to choose greeting cards or special paper to craft holiday messages with. Whether alone or with a group of family and friends, there is something about writing cards in a space decorated for the holidays that awakens the holiday spirit. Maybe you’re next to a crackling fireplace, perhaps around a kitchen table, always with something festive to sip on while writing, be it cocoa, mulled wine or a celebratory champagne cocktail.
It’s also a treat to go find the coziest corner of a coffee shop and write cards while watching festive holiday shoppers come and go and take in the atmosphere of the season.
However and wherever you decide to express your wishes of the season, choosing a special pen to write with just adds to the delight of the holidays.
As we pick up our pens to send out our own greeting cards, all of us at Esterbrook wish you a season filled with merry writing and a happy new year.