First Christmas gifts had real meaning, but first cards were hinting for money


NEW YORK – From candy canes to brightly decorated gingerbread houses to Santa Claus on every street corner, the holiday season brings some wonderful things. However, it also ushers in many time-consuming tasks – cooking the holiday meal, picking out the Christmas tree, and especially, buying the perfect gifts for loved ones and writing out holiday cards to faraway friends and family members.

Have you ever wondered about the origin of exchanging gifts and cards? According to Donald E. Dossey, author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun, by the 12th century, the practice of giving gifts had become common on Christmas, as well as on New Year’s Day.

Thank the Magi. “It was believed to have come from the scriptural account, in Matthew 2:11, of the Three Magi who offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child,” said Dossey.

The origin of sending Christmas cards, he said, began in England.

Hinting for money. “Edna Barth in Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights: The Story of Christmas Symbols, said that in England, schoolboys away from home sent Christmas letters to their parents.”

The letters were printed on paper that had Bible scenes on it, written in their best penmanship. In the hopes of receiving money and gifts, they would tell their parents of their progress at school.

It was in 1839, after the introduction of the penny post in England, that the true Christmas card tradition of sending cards to loved ones developed.

“One thousand copies of the card designed for Sir Henry Cole were sold. Usually regarded as the first of its kind, it was made by J.C. Horsley, a member of the Royal Academy,” said Dossey.

In spite of its success, the custom did not become widespread in America until after the English royal family began sending cards.


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