New Year greeting cards, a popular French tradition
The first envelopes decorated with Christmas themes and the postage stamp that appeared in England in the mid-19th century played a major role in the development of the tradition.
The English indeed took the habit of sending Christmas Cards to wish a Happy Christmas and New Year to their family and loved ones.
In 1843, John Calcott Horsley started the trend by sending the first greetings card to Sir Henry Cole!
However, the newly invented lithography technique helped spreading the tradition.
It indeed allowed the large-scale reproduction of cards decorated with mistletoe, holly, nativity scenes or snowy landscapes and printed with a good wishes text.
The French quickly adopted this tradition, but only sent New Year greeting cards.
Christmas cards were not that popular, maybe because people avoided any religious connotation since the French Revolution; the official separation of the Church and State in 1905 must have reinforced this feeling.
Things have changed since, but few French people send greetings cards in December; they send them throughout January until the 31st, which is the dateline!
The popularity of greeting cards has never ceased growing since, but the Internet has brought a new dimension: virtual greeting cards.
That said many people still prefer to send personalized handwritten cards to greet their family and friends.
Greeting cards, a Chinese tradition
Greeting cards were invented centuries ago in China, but were slightly different from what they are today.
In those times the Chinese sent business cards to the people they had met during the year that had just ended.
These rice paper cards varied in size and ink colour depending on the recipients’ social status.
Long-haul sailors and explorers most likely introduced this tradition in Western Europe during the Middle-Ages.
The aristocracy adopted this custom, which they saw as an easy way of keeping in touch with influential or useful people.
They therefore started to send their best wishes to their allies, sovereigns or courtiers on the first day of the new year.
These cards included the recipients’ names, titles or qualifications.
Their servants met at a dedicated fair that took place in the new year on the public square.
The commissioners stood on a podium and shouted the names of the recipients whose servants collected the cards.
Business cards turned greeting cards
Common people didn’t send greeting cards; in fact most could hardly read or write!
Instead they visited their family, friends and employers, but also the poor or sick in the first 15 days of the new year.
But this was time-consuming!
As time passed, more people learned to write and began to leave cards with the recipients’ servants.
The tradition evolved further in the 15th century when people began to send greetings and business cards at the beginning of the year to reconnect with friends or keep in touch with influential people.
Business and greetings cards eventually merged into our New Year greeting cards.