Christmas traditions – Christmas cards

By | 2 December 2014

One of the first traditions we encounter in the lead up to Christmas is that of sending colourful cards to family and friends, to relay our love and warm wishes for the season (often including a round robin newsy letter to catch up on the previous year) but also to brighten up our homes with reminders of loved ones far and near. For many this starts almost as soon as Halloween is out of the way, especially those of us needing to get our cards to distant parts of the World in good time.

The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant interested in encouraging broader use of the new ‘Public Post Office’  as, before the development of trains and the introduction of a penny stamp, only the relatively well to do could send by ‘post’.

1st cardSir Henry, and his artist friend John Horsley, designed the first card, which sold for 1 shilling. It had three panels, displaying very Victorian Christmas traditions: the outer two showing people caring for the poor and in the centre panel a family having a large Christmas dinner (including, controversially, a child being given a glass of wine!)

Initially, and for a long time, cards were popular means of communication in the UK as they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for half the price of an ordinary letter. By the early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe, where it was especially popular in Germany, and to America. In 1875, Louis Prang, a printer who was originally from German, started mass producing greeting cards, largely  featuring flowers, plants, and children, and from 1915, when John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, the era of mass produced greeting cards had arrived.


photo by Jannes Pockele

The first seasonal cards usually had pictures relating to the Christian Christmas narrative, particularly the nativity scene, but, as their popularity grew, new themes emerged, generally reflecting Christmas traditions such as seasonal figures (Santa Claus, snowmen, reindeer), objects associated with Christmas (candles, holly, baubles, Christmas trees), and Christmastime activities (shopping, carolling, and partying) but increasingly including other aspects of the northern winter season such as winter landscapes, robins, and lots of snow.

In the 1910s and 1920s, homemade cards became popular. They were often unusual shapes and had things such as foil and ribbon on them, so were often too delicate to send through the post and were given by hand. Now that we have sturdier packaging and transport systems, as well as the option of digital transfer of media, what better way to make this tradition slightly less commercial and rather more personal than to make your own cards, with your individual combination of image and words.

There are a number of free services online providing a simple template and help with loading up images, such as

Card1Alternatively, you can easily construct your own cards in Word using some simple formatting, or a ready made template. Guided formatting instructions, and template downloads, are available from HowToGeek: Design and Print Your Own Christmas Cards in MS Word, Part 1, with instructions for paper and printing options in Part 2. Or follow the instructions on the ‘Create Greeting Cards in Microsoft Word 2003 – For Dummies page to set up Word to create a greeting card from a single sheet of A4 paper.

Having formatted your card, you are now ready to find and type in a suitable poem or quotation or some well phrased wishes, for the inside (a quick Google search will bring lots of inspiration and sample messages)  and a beautiful or amusing image for the card face. Before you begin, it is worth acquainting yourself with the basic rules of copyright to make sure you stay within the law when reproducing and distributing images .

A couple of good articles sum up the rules for online images and digital media (in case you are planning to circulate your finished card in electronic format only) :

To be safe, and within the law your best options are:MyPhotos

1. Use your own
If you have a hardcopy or digital collection of your own photography or artwork, there is a range of helpful image manipulation tools available online to assist you enhance and adjust these for purpose. See LKR social media’s blog for a list of, and guide for, some of the best of these.

2. Licence free image collections
If you don’t have a suitable photo of your own to hand, there are a number of online collections and repositories providing 100% license-free images (ie images that you can save, edit and use without needing to pay a licence fee, or ‘cite’ with a proper attribution) e.g.
Death to the Stock Photo. Sign up for your free subscription to get a zip file of free high quality, different themed, images every month by email.
Unsplash – have a Tumblr account which is updated with 10 new photos every 10 days from which you can help yourself
morgueFile. another collection of great free stock photos that don’t require you to cite the source when using them

Between these services I am sure you can find a variety of beautiful and unusual images to edit, if need be, and use for highly individual cards. But if you still haven’t found just what you need, try:

3. Images with a Creative Commons licence
Do a Creative Commons search (eg for images that have a Creative Commons license. This is essentially permission, from the owner of the image, for you to use it for free (though possibly with attribution and accreditation requirements). You can find out about the different versions of the Creative Commons license (and you may be required to link to the relevant version in your attribution, so this is a good one to bookmark ).

For ease of use, we recommend looking for images that only require an attribution to the owner(s) in some way. If you want to adapt the image at all, check the “modify, adapt, or build upon” box, on the search screen and – just to be sure of avoiding any charge of commercial interest from wherever you plan to use the image – make sure you check the box that says “use for commercial purposes”.

CC AttributionOnce you have chosen an image you like, read very carefully the information regarding copyright, Creative Commons license, and/or attribution. If you can’t meet the requirements of the owner, do not use the image. If you aren’t sure if you meet the requirements, email him or her to ask. If there is no specific instruction, but an attribution is required, one of these options should suffice, depending on how the image will be used:
• Easiest, and most commonly used, is to include the author’s name and/or original url of the image and a link to the relevant licence, in the image’s caption (as per the bunny card, above)
• If you’re ‘posting’ your card out to friends and network via Facebook, Pinterest, or on your site, you can use one of the aforementioned free online tools to tweak your images and overlay the image with the attribution and url.


Merry Xmas

Merry Christmas.
from all at the Bodleian Law Library