Where Did the Tradition Of Greeting Cards Develop
Whether its the holidays or occasions that we want to celebrate, greeting cards are fixed in Western cultures today and giving them to friends or acquaintances seems second nature to us. How did this tradition develop? As one might expect, greeting cards developed from more ancient roots. Additionally, the use and intention of greeting cards has also changed, where cultural interests and changes applied in time have developed our current traditions and those used around the world.
Origin of Greeting Cards
Greeting cards have their origin perhaps soon after the invention of writing. Already in ancient Sumerian culture in hte 3rd millennium BCE, clay tablets have been found with greetings that maybe have been sent as a card of well wishing. In Bronze Age China and Egypt, these societies show evidence of personalized messages sent to others celebrating the New Year or providing well wishes at the end of the year. In fact, this is the origin of New Year greeting cards. In China, the idea was o send messages to ward off the evil spirit Nian, who would terrorize people at the end of the year. Cards would be given at the beginning of the year and the cards were intended to have luck or power to help ward off the evil spirit for the entire year. The presence of evil spirits and the wishing away of evil in the Near Year are still part of celebrations of the Chinese New Year. In Egypt, among the earliest personalized greeting cards have been found, where named individuals wishing well to other named individuals has been found. The idea was to send personalized greetings in the New Year, in a way similar to Chinese New Year culture, but rather than warding evil spirits the idea was to wish someone well and celebrate the beginning of the new life cycle that would begin in the New Year. For Egypt, the calendar would begin with the rising of the star Sothis, or our star Sirius, sometime around August/September. For Chinese traditions, New Year was generally around January/February, where the tradition follows a lunar calendar.
Around 100 CE, paper was invented by the Chinese. The use of personalized messages became also popular in the new meidum as the use of paper spread to other cultures along the Silk Road and utilising sea routes. In the Medieval period, in Europe, New Year also became a time for people to reflect and think about the year ahead. Worries about the harvest or coming year led people to write well wishes to each other. Sometimes this would be done in personalized wood carvings or what became common was using paper. By the 14th century in German states, personal greeting cards more similar to today had developed, which resemble our handmade cards that were written with short wishes for good fortune in the New Year. In the 14th century, most greeting cards were the privilege of the upper class, as handmade cards were generally expensive.
Holidays and Greeting Cards
By the mid-15th century, greeting cards had moved from mostly a New Year formality to something being exchanged in other periods. One of the first periods used outside of New Year was in celebration of St. Valentine. In fact, Margery Brews, in 1477, is considered to have composed the oldest known Valentine's Day card to her fiancé. Despite this change, greeting cards were still considered too expensive and difficult for most people to have.
The major change occurred in the late mid-19th century, when at that time innovations in mechanized printing and mass production, along with better postal routes and cheaper postal rates, made sending greeting cards affordable. It was at this time that greeting cards became popular for other occasions. One of the first was for Christmas, when Sir Henry Cole, in 1847, hired the designer John Calcott Horsley to create the first personalized Christmas cards. These cards were then posted by Cole to his friends as a greeting for the Christmas period.