The ancient Chinese sent greetings cards to wish their friends and family good luck for the coming year. In 15th century Germany, cards celebrating the new year were also produced and sent.
The first commercial Christmas card was devised and sent by Henry Cole in 1843 who sold the cards for a shilling. Cole was an English inventor who also founded the V & A Museum.
In the 19th century, the Post Office delivered cards on Christmas Day in the UK. Postmen were often known as robins because of their bright red uniforms and robins became a popular card Christmas card motif.
In America, Louis Prang, a printer, produced the first commercially available Christmas cards. By 1881, over 5 million cards were being produced every year in the US.
Every year in the UK alone, an estimated 1.8 billion Christmas cards are sent and received. The average UK household sends out about 50 cards each Christmas and most are written and mailed by women.
Designing and making personal Christmas cards is one of the most popular craft hobbies in the UK. Charity cards are also popular, raising an estimated £50 million each year.
There are about 800 greeting card publishers in the UK, most of which are small businesses with just a few employees. The greeting card industry employs over 100,000 people.
About 60 percent of all greeting card sales are Christmas cards. About 33 percent of all cards have religious themes, while snowmen, reindeer, Santa and shopping are also popular.
President Eisenhower sent the first official White House Christmas card in 1953. The few cards signed by President Kennedy before his assassination are some of the most valuable Christmas cards ever written.
One of the earliest Christmas cards sold for £22,000 in 2001. There is a large and valuable collection of cards collected by Queen Mary, in the British Museum.
What next? Find out more Christmas facts by visiting our Christmas resources page.
Although mistletoe can grow on its own, it is also known as a partial parasite. It grows on tree trunks and branches and uses the tree’s nutrients.
There are actually about 1,300 species of mistletoe found around the world, including two that are native to America. About 20 of these species are endangered.
The word mistletoe probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon words for ‘dung’ and ‘twig’. The plant was so called because the seeds were often spread through bird droppings.
Kissing under the mistletoe first originated in Ancient Greece and the custom was later used in marriage ceremonies. The mistletoe was believed to bring fertility.
Kissing under the mistletoe was also popular in 16th century England. It is commonly used as a Christmas decoration, and some customs say that it should not touch the ground between being cut down and thrown out.
Some people claim that mistletoe can treat cancer. The plant is also widely used in Germany and other parts of Europe to treat various conditions, including respiratory problems and circulation problems.
The American actress Suzanne Somers made headlines when she treated her breast cancer with medicine made from mistletoe. However, the drug is not officially recognized as being able to fight cancer.
The plant appears in lots of folk remedies, and in some countries it was hung over the door of the home to keep demons away.
When Christianity began to spread across the world, a rumour develped that suggested the cross upon which Jesus died was made from mistletoe. The plant was punished by being made a parasite and forbidden to grow in the ground.
Many animals eat mistletoe and get their protein from it. Birds also use it for food or nesting material and butterflies lay their eggs on the plants.
The reindeer is a species of deer native to Arctic areas of Scandinavia, Greenland, Canada and Russia. In North America, it is known as the caribou.
A male deer can measure up to 215 cm in length and weigh up to 310 kg. Their antlers can grow as long as 135 cm.
They are very good at seeing in the snow.
Reindeer eat moss, lichen, grass and mushrooms. Apparently, reindeer have also been known to eat lemmings.
They have 2 layers of fur, which help to protect them from the cold.
Their noses warm the air they breathe in, and reindeer are also able to retain body heat by lowering the temperature in their legs to just above freezing.
Reindeer are the only deer species in which both males and females have antlers. They are the only mammals that grow new antlers every year, and male reindeer shed their antlers each winter.
They have a strong sense of small and can smell lichen plants in snow 60 cm deep.
Reindeer also grow long facial hair to cover their mouths during the colder weather.
They can travel up to about 50 km a day and are also very strong swimmers. Reindeer migrate the furthest of any land mammal, often up to 5,000 km a year.
Reindeer are especially important to the local people of northern Finland, known as Sami. The Sami have almost 400 different words for reindeer products (such as food, tools and clothing).
The reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh were first named in an 1823 poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas (also known as Twas the Night Before Christmas). The poem made reindeer one of the most popular of Christmas symbols.
The most famous reindeer is Rudolf, well known for his red nose. Since first appearing in a 1939 story, he has appeared in dozens of books, films and TV shows.
Christmas has been celebrated for over 2,000 years to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. However, long before Jesus was born, the middle of winter has traditionally been a time for celebration.
In the United States, Christmas has been a recognized holiday since 1870. An estimated 2.1 billion people around the world celebrate the holiday in some way.
Christmas is a huge holiday in the UK, Europe and the US, and it is also celebrated around the world in countries such as Brazil, China, India and Nigeria.
Christmas puddings originated in old England, when hunters carried the filling mixture on long journeys. In the 1700s the rich cake was only eaten on special occasions. Over time it became a Christmas food.
The first Christmas card was printed in London in 1843, although medieval wood prints with seasonal themes were produced in the Middle Ages. Nearly 2 billion cards are sent in the UK each year.
Father Christmas is based on St. Nicholas, a 4th century Turkish monk who gave gifts to the poor. In the mid 19th century, a magazine published pictures of him wearing a red and white robe, and with a white beard.
Christmas was banned in mid-17th century England, by Oliver Cromwell. It was also banned in Boston by early colonists, with anyone celebrating being fined 5 shillings.
Norway has given Britain the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square every year since 1947 as a gift for the help received from Britain during World War 2. The tree can be 20 metres tall.
In old England, a pig’s head with mustard was the traditional Christmas meal. The custom of putting coins in Christmas pudding originally represented the Wise Men’s 3 gifts.
The idea of Christmas stockings comes from the story of St. Nicholas filling old socks with gold for three poor sisters. One of the largest stockings was made in London in 2007 – it was 32 metres long!
What next? Discover more Christmas facts by visiting our Christmas resources page.
Trees were first decorated to celebrate Christmas in 15th century Europe, although nobody really knows why. It may be that the evergreen tree symbolized eternal life.
The Christmas tree as we know it today became popular in 18th century Germany, and spread to other European countries. Britain’s Queen Victoria had a tree in her home every year. (Click here to learn more about Christmas in Victorian times)
One of the most famous Christmas trees is in Rockefeller Plaza in New York, where a tree has been put up every year since 1933. It is usually a Norwegian Spruce, and can be up to 30 metres tall.
Other famous Christmas trees include the National Christmas tree in Washington, DC and the tree in Trafalgar Square, London. The tree in the Vatican in Rome features a life size nativity scene.
President Pierce was the first US President to have a Christmas tree in the White House, in 1856. Apparently, President Roosevelt would not have a tree because of environmental concerns.In Europe, an estimated 50 to 60 million Christmas trees are sold each year. In the United States, about 35 million are sold and there are about 20,000 Christmas tree farms.
Christmas trees are grown in all 50 of the United States, including Florida and Hawaii. At any one time, there are about 350 million trees being grown in the US.
It usually takes between 6 and 10 years to grow a full sized Christmas tree.
A tree in your home will need up to a litre of water each day.
Artificial trees were invented in Germany during the 19th century. In the 1930s an American company used the same bristles for both its trees and its toilet brushes.
Candles have been used to decorate trees since the 17th century. Thomas Edison’s assistant invented Christmas tree lights in 1882 and they were first mass produced in 1890.
In 2011, a LEGO Christmas tree was displayed at St Pancras Station, London. The 10 metre high tree was designed by Duncan Titchmarsh and contained more than 400,000 LEGO bricks and weighed more than 3 tonnes.
The celebration of Christmas was very important to the Victorians. Here are some facts about the different traditions and activities associated with Christmas in Victorian times.
At the beginning of the Victorian era Christmas was hardly celebrated at all in Britain. However, by the end of the period, it was considered to be the biggest and most important annual celebration in the Victorian calendar.
The Victorians started (or at least made popular) many of the Christmas activities we do today.
Many people think that Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) was responsible for shaping how Christmas was celebrated by British Victorian families. He was born in Germany. In Germany evergreen trees were traditionally brought into the home at Christmas time and decorated (with candles, sweets and fruit). In 1848 the royal family were pictured celebrating Christmas around such a decorated tree, and the fashion for Christmas trees spread very quickly from this point on.
In 1843 Henry Cole asked an artist to make a card for him to send out at Christmas. It featured a family sitting around a dinner table and a Christmas message. The idea seemed to catch on and soon many wealthy Victorian families were sending out their own cards.
Victorian children were encouraged to make their own cards and there is even evidence that Queen Victoria had her own children do this.
The first printed Christmas cards were very expensive to manufacture, but the price went down dramatically during the Victorian period. This was due to improvements in colour printing technology and the new halfpenny postage rate.
In 1880 over 11 million Christmas cards were printed!
Victorian Christmas Crackers
In 1848 a British sweet maker, Tom Smith, came up with a the idea for the Christmas cracker. When he visited Paris Tom noticed that sugared almonds were sold in twists of paper (bon bons). He used this as inspiration for his Christmas crackers – sweets wrapped in a paper package that snapped apart when you pulled the ends.
During the Victorian period, Tom Smith’s idea was adapted and improved. The sweets were often replaced with Christmas paper hats and small gifts were added.
The Christmas crackers of the later Victorian era were quite similar to the crackers placed on today’s Christmas dinner tables.
Victorian Christmas Presents and Gifts
At the beginning of the Victorian period families often gave and received presents to celebrate the New Year. But, as the importance of Christmas as a family celebration grew, the gift-giving was moved to Christmas.
The first Victorian Christmas presents were fairly small – gifts such as fruits, nuts, sweets and handmade items were hung from the branches of the Christmas tree.
The size and expense of the gifts steadily increased. Victorians started to buy gifts from shops and they were often too big to hang from the tree. By the end of the Victorian era, many families had taken to leaving Christmas gifts under the tree.
Facts about Victorian Christmas Dinner
The Victorians are also responsible for popularising many of the traditional British Christmas foods.
The first Victorian mince pies were made of meat (a recipe that dates from Tudor times), but the mince pies made later in the nineteenth century didn’t contain meat and were pretty much like the ones we enjoy today.
Although some Victorian families celebrated Christmas with roast goose or beef, it was in Victorian times that roast turkey became the main part of the Christmas dinner. By the end of the Victorian period, most families would roast a turkey for Christmas.
Other Facts About Christmas in Victorian Times
The family was really important to the Victorians. They saw Christmas as a time to focus on family relationships, and most of the Victorian Christmas traditions (such as gift giving, eating a Christmas dinner, decorating the Christmas tree) were shared by all of the family members.
Charles Dickens is also credited with spreading many of the Christmas traditions in Victorian times. His famous book, A Christmas Carol, was very popular and it influenced how Victorian families approached the celebration of Christmas.
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