OK, I’ve held off as long as I can but it’s less than a month away now, so as Advent begins on Saturday, I think it’s reasonable to mention the C word. Christmas, as we now know it, is largely the invention of Charles Dickens, thanks to his magnificent 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, which many credit with reviving interest in the declining traditions of the holiday at the time.
Just as Prince Albert introduced the German tradition of the Christmas Tree, and Coca Cola can take responsibility for the modern image of Father Christmas, so Dickens’ creation coincided with other innovations that become traditions themselves, perhaps none more so than the Christmas card.
Although the first known Yuletide greetings card dates back to the reign of James I, the Victorian tradition began in the same year that A Christmas Carol was written and published. Commissioned by the inventor Sir Henry Cole and Illustrated by John Calcott Horsley, the world’s first commercially produced card depicts a family celebration at the centre, with scenes of charity giving to each side. These were not cheap throwaways. At a shilling each, they were considered expensive and so only a few of the 1000 printed sold.
Needless to say, it is an example of this that holds the world auction record for a Christmas card, with one selling for £20,000 as long ago as 2001.