Christmas Fact 9

German Advent Calendar: Fact of the Day

9. Dezember – Der Adventskalender

Christmas Cards – Weihnachtskarten


A Christmas card depicting the “Silent Night” chapel in Oberndorf, Austria. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The custom of sending Christmas cards began in England in 1843 when Henry Cole (1808-1882) had 1,000 cards printed with the simple message: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” The first Christmas card featured a hand-colored lithographed image (by artist John Callcott Horsley) of a Victorian family enjoying Christmas dinner.

In 1874 the custom began in the United States when the German immigrant printer Louis Prang (1824-1909) began publishing multicolored chromolithographic (“chromos”) Weihnachtskarten in Boston. These were the first commercial, widely available holiday cards in the US. Rather than holly or mistletoe, Prang’s Christmas cards featured a sprig of three Killarney roses with the words “Merry Christmas.” It is said that his cards were so popular that young women entered in their diaries how many “Prangs” they received during the holiday season. At its height around 1881, Prang’s company was printing an estimated five million Christmas cards annually, making him the “Father of the American Christmas Card.” Ironically, the massive import of cheaper Christmas cards from Germany in the late 1880s forced Prang out of business by 1890. Another American card innovation came in 1915 when the Hall brothers (later Hallmark) in Kansas City, Missouri introduced a larger 4×6-inch card “book” format.

German Christmas card

A German Christmas card. IMAGE: AVG.

Although Germany was exporting cards, it was not until the early 1900s that Christmas cards became common in Germany itself. Before that, beginning around 1800, it was more common in German-speaking Europe to send New Year’s rather than Christmas cards – a custom that some German families still practice today.

The invention of lithographic printing by the German Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) around 1798 soon led to a boom in both Christmas and New Year’s cards. In the 1800s various firms and professions in Austria and Germany began the tradition of sending or giving out New Year’s wishes to their clients and customers. For instance, a popular Vienna Kaffeehaus distributed hand-colored lithographed New Year’s cards to regular customers. Later, chimney sweeps (Kaminfeger) had their own special New Year’s cards depicting sweeps in a winter setting. Other professions had similar cards.

A more unusual “card” was produced by the Königliche Eisengießerei (Royal Iron Foundry) in Berlin. For the new years 1815 through 1820 the foundry issued square cast-iron plaques depicting winter scenes with reliefs of the foundry’s products. The 1815 metal card showed a copy of a steam engine and the grave memorial for Theodor Körner that the foundry had manufactured. The 1816 card featured the first locomotive ever built in Germany.

Of course, conventional printed cards were more common, and they continue to be popular today all around the world. In recent years digital online cards have also become popular.

WEB > Louis Prang ( – English)
WEB > Louis Prang (Wikipedia – English)
WEB > Weihnachtskarte (Wikipedia – Deutsch)
WEB > Christmas card (Wikipedia – English)
WEB > The greeting card through the ages (AVG) – A history of greeting cards – in English.
WEB > Wer erfand die Weihnachtskarte? (AVG) – A history of both the Christmas celebration and the Christmas card – in German (updated 2015). Also in English.


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