The changing language of Christmas cards
‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year.’ Well, it might be. If it weren’t for greetings card prices. Seriously, those things get more and more expensive with each passing December 25.
I’m wondering, actually, is it socially acceptable to make one’s own? You know, like we all did at primary school, complete with a clumsily-torn off chunk of cotton wool for Father Christmas’s beard? Surely it’d save us all a small fortune. I swear my Christmas card bill alone has come to £103.23 this year.
Joking aside though, greetings cards have altered over the years in more ways than one. True, you can’t buy one for everyone and his dog for a tenner anymore (and still have change left over for a chippy tea), but give card makers their due, we can enjoy a little more variety for our dosh.
While I’d love to harp on ‘til the (Christmas) cows come home about how things just ain’t what they used to be where the festive season’s concerned, this blog has to have a language focus. And so here I am, shoehorning some word-related insight into a piece about Christmas.
Without further ado, then, here’s how Christmas cards – or rather, the language used within them – have changed over the years:
The Victorian Era
Did you know the sending of Christmas cards began in the Victorian era? According to Victoriana magazine (where else?!) the first commercial festive card is believed to have been designed and printed in London in 1843. It was the work of John Callcott Horsley – a British narrative painter and Royal Academician – apparently, who put the first card together at the request of his friend Sir Henry Cole, with the plan being to dish them out to friends. The first Christmas card wasn’t, however, a success. I know. You can read more by clicking the link above.
Next up, the 1920s – and the Mother Bedford site. On it, you’ll find all sorts of charming Christmas cards from the ‘20s to the ‘90s, but we just love this one, seen here (fourth image down). (pictured below).
Anyone who celebrates Christmas in the traditional sense of the word, will know it’s becoming as difficult to find a festive card with a religious angle as it is to find a solitary sixpence in a pudding.
There’s something very charming about the opening line seen on this card, though: ‘Christmas Pleasures Be Yours’. In a world of John Lewis TV ads and cut-price Amazon bargains, cards with a non-commercial slant are fast becoming a rarity.
Moving on to the 1940s now – and here’s where a spot of ‘smut’ first began seeping into popular Christmas culture. How very British!
True, you could still find a card or two that kept the religious spirit of Christmas in mind, but popular characters like Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop were now spotted on greetings cards.
Thanks to the Forties Knitter blog, we’re treated to a sneak peek at a typical 1940s card. You thought the ‘Jingle My Balls’-esque bawdy humour you see on some of today’s cards was reserved for the 21st century – but you’d be wrong (see the third image down). The age of the pin up, the 1940s did risqué humour in language form, at least, well. Very well.
Taking a look at the 1960s now and sauciness most certainly ensues. It might not be the all-out, let’s get our kinky cards on the table kind of saucy we expect from today’s cards, but it was certainly a little cheeky in its own way.
Say hello to a 1960s Christmas offering unearthed in a museum of similarly saucy greetings cards. With simple yet-not-so-subtle rhymes a-plenty, the ‘poetic’ ‘I am helping Polly hanging up the holly’ festive card was certainly the one to buy now that the swinging 60s had rolled around.
Simple and to the point, there’s no mixed messages where the language in this card is concerned.
Humour – saucy or otherwise – was the order of the day on Christmas cards and their enclosed greetings in the 1980s. This was still very much the ‘kiss me quick’ era of smutty seaside postcards, too – and we Brits relished a chance for some ‘light relief’ via our pack of 30 from Woolworths. Card prices were, of course, rising and while you could still find a greeting with a religious sentiment, it seemed many of us instead preferred a good old belly laugh. Christmas tradition: nil. Christmas commercialism: one.
Now, there are traditional and sentimental cards aplenty in the sob-worthy festive advert era, but in more recent years, poking fun at our friends and family – in card form or otherwise – seems to be the only way to do Christmas.
Before we sign off, we have to ask this: is the ever-changing English language to blame/to thank for our taste in Christmas cards? Or are we just becoming a little more liberal? Would you be offended if your Christmas card featured a swear word, or is a little bit of tomfoolery really in the spirit of a present-day Christmas? Let us know…
Oh and before I go (honest, I’m going this time!), I’ll leave you with this…
Sometimes the funniest festive cards are those that aren’t trying to be. When you’re living down south, ‘Auntie’ is most certainly spelled ‘Arntee’ – thanks James (aged five and ¾) for the ‘larrrfs’!