Tag Archives: Hallmark Cards

Last Christmas Cards

Christmas Cards are said to have originated in 19th Century England when Henry Cole, who later became the first director of  London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and his friend John Horsley designed the first one in 1843.  It had two outer panels showing the better-off bestowing gifts on the poor,  and a large central panel portraying a family  partaking of Christmas fayre. (Even the children enjoy quaffing the mead by the look of it!)

The First Christmas Card

The world’s first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843

By the 1880s the practice of sending Christmas cards had risen in popularity. The introduction of cheaper postage and development of printing technology meant that cards and postage were within the financial reach of many.  In the USA Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo shows that the practice thrived amid postwar industrialization and the demise of the family farm. ‘‘As people dispersed geographically, women assumed responsibility for “the work of kinship” and became caretakers of extended family connections. Christmas cards were a convenient way for them to nurture relationships among their husbands, children, and distant relatives.”

Meanwhile a German immigrant to the United States, Louis Prange produced affordable cards for the mass market and then in 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today.

In recent years the Christmas tradition of sending greeting cards appears to be succumbing to the instant and free communication platforms of social media.  I can recall having a list of 120 or so to write and dispatch perhaps 5 years ago.  It was an ‘excuse’ to greet those who had touched our lives, yet who were no longer in our immediate circle.  It was lovely to hear from them and to know all was well. Now, however,  the cost of postage has become a major consideration, while at the same time the cost of cards continues to decrease with 3 for 2 offers.  We can now purchase Christmas cards for charitable causes dear to our hearts, such as for dogs for the disabled, cancer charities, the homeless and so on, yet in spite of the reduction in the cost of cards, the increased cost of postage has become an issue in continuing the tradition. Who doesn’t love to receive a handwritten envelope containing good wishes?  Christmas cards lined up on the mantel are as much a part of Christmas as the Christmas dinner, but more than that, they are a link with friends and family who and may be far away and may be treasure for family historians.

Two of my most valued possessions are ‘last’ Christmas cards from both of our grandfathers.

For as long as I could remember we each received an individually addressed Christmas card from our maternal grandfather, Gaga Clinton.  He had beautiful handwriting that we recognized so well and inside each card was an eagerly awaited fortune – a Postal Order for ten shillings.

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A ten shilling postal order like this was a ‘lotto win’ for us children

Our Gaga Clinton dropped dead in his kitchen on Saturday December 19, 1959. He had posted the Christmas cards that morning so their arrival at our house in the following week was particularly poignant.

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One of the cards sent by our grandfather on the day he died in 1959

This card was the one sent to our mother by her father  59 years ago and it has become a family treasure.

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Christmas wishes in the 1959 card

Unfortunately the wishes in the card went unrealized as the sorrow of our grandfather’s passing cast a huge cloud on our Christmas.

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Memorial card for our Gaga Clinton

Many years earlier 74 years ago, during the second World War our paternal grandfather posted a Christmas card from Ireland to his eldest daughter, our Aunt May, who was a nun in England.  The card, from Christmas 1943,  was particularly sombre.

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Front of the 1943 Christmas card

The message was particularly apt for the time.

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When our Aunt May died in May 2007, this card was found in her prayer book. Her much loved father died unexpectedly in November 1944, at the age of 59, having contracted Typhoid Fever, so this was the last Christmas card she ever received from him. She must have had the habit of saving Christmas cards for a year, which in this case paid off as she would never receive another.

Christmas cards have a special place in our family history and I have the last cards written to me by my mother and by my father as well as those from aunts. They give a unique insight into the times that were in it, and they are greatly treasured. I for one regret the demise of the personal Christmas card, a card chosen, written, addressed and posted by those who cared about us.  A loss to family history for sure.

References

https://daily.jstor.org/history-christmas-card-holiday-card/

The Female World of Cards and Holidays: Women, Families, and the Work of Kinship.  Micaela Di Leonardo University of Chicago Press
Prang’s Christmas Cards

 

 

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Happy Valentine’s day – from St Valentine, Dublin, Ireland

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Red Rose – Symbol of love . Image Wikimedia Commons

The red rose – a great symbol of love! February 14th is  a day when cards and tokens of love  are exchanged by lovers, spouses and partners. It  is almost a rite of passage for young teenagers to buy or make cards in quantity and send them anonymously to the objects  of their desires –  or if all else fails –  to send them to themselves, so as not to feel excluded when the peers arrive with barrowloads  from every male in the area. We could be forgiven for thinking that Valentine’s day is an invention of Hallmark Cards, as tens of millions of Valentine cards are bought each year, but would we be correct? As well as cards, millions of flowers will be handed over as tokens of undying devotion to loved ones to mark the annual Love-day,  the Feast of St Valentine.

But where did the tradition come from? Valentine’s or St Valentines’ Day is  a celebration of the feast day of the Saint of that name.  Scratch any religious ‘feast’ very gently and not far  under the surface there will be a pagan or ancient  celebration. In mid February, or the ides of February, there was the ancient fertility festival of Lupercalia  where there appears to have been some ‘blooding ‘ ritual whereby young women were touched with the  hides of freshly skinned animals. They then  placed their names in a container. Young men would select a name and would be paired with the girl of his choice for the following year, and apparently marriage often ensued. This practice was outlawed in the 5th century about the same time as  St Valentine’s Feast was announced.

Several men with the name Valentinus were martyred in the early church. One story suggests that a particular  Valentinus was imprisoned for performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers. Soldiers were forbidden to marry as having a wife might distract them from their soldiery duties. When in prison,this particular Valentinus supposedly healed the daughter of his jailer and some stories suggest he fell in love with her. Prior to execution he is said to have written her a farewell note signed :  “from your Valentine”. Whatever the origins, the Feast of St Valentine is marked in many cultures and   communions – such as the Lutheran Church, Anglicans, and  Eastern Orthodox.

In 1382, Chaucer  composed a poem to mark the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, where he refers to Valentine:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

(For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day,

when every bird cometh there to choose his mate)

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Oldest known Valentine message c. 1477 from British Museum

By the 1600’s  it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers  expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confections  and sending greeting cards.

In 1850,Joseph R Chandler in an article entitled ‘St Valentine’s Day‘ in Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature and Art , wrote:

The commercial revolution has loosed St Valentine Day from its previous  moorings in folk culture and redirected it into new and little charted waters”.

And it would seem that this  commercial revolution has continued unabated in the intervening 160+ years.

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The St . Valentine Shrine in Whitefriars Church, Dublin . The carved image of Valentine, martyr, stands above the reliquary that is venerated on February 14 each year.

On November 10, 1836, a strange event was taking place in Dublin. A reliquary containing  remains of St Valentine were brought in solemn procession to the Carmelite Church on Whitefriars Street. These had been the gift of Pope Gregory XVI  in appreciation of  Carmelite John Spratt who had visited Rome. John Spratt was as an eloquent preacher who ‘wowed’ both the elite of Rome and the Church itself.   In Dublin he was a well- known and respected figure who worked tirelessly for the poor and disadvantaged in the Liberties area and who had built the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Whitefriars  Street. The gift of relics was accompanied by a letter in Latin which translates as follows:

“We, Charles, by the divine mercy, Bishop of Sabina of the Holy Roman Church, Cardinal Odescalchi Arch Priest of the Sacred Liberian Basilica, Vicar General of our most Holy Father the Pope and Judge in Ordinary of the Roman Curia and of its Districts, etc, etc.

To all and everyone who shall inspect these our present letters, we certify and attest, that for the greater glory of the omnipotent God and veneration of his saints, we have freely given to the Very Reverend Father Spratt, Master of Sacred Theology of the Order of Calced Carmelites of the convent of that Order at Dublin, in Ireland, the blessed body of St Valentine, martyr, which we ourselves by the command of the most Holy Father Pope Gregory XVI on the 27th day of December 1835, have taken out of the cemetery of St Hippolytus in the Tiburtine Way, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood and have deposited them in a wooden case covered with painted paper, well closed, tied with a red silk ribbon and sealed with our seals and we have so delivered and consigned to him, and we have granted unto him power in the Lord, to the end that he may retain to himself, give to others, transmit beyond the city (Rome) and in any church, oratory or chapel, to expose and place the said blessed holy body for the public veneration of the faithful without, however, an Office and Mass, conformably to the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, promulgated on the 11th day of August 1691.

In testimony whereof, these letters, testimonial subscribed with our hand, and sealed with our seal, we have directed to be expedited by the undersigned keeper of sacred relics.

Rome, from our Palace, the 29th day of the month of January 1836.
C.Cardinal Vicar
Regd. Tom 3. Page 291
Philip Ludovici Pro-Custos”

All Catholic Churches have relics, usually contained in a cavity on the altar, or in a reliquary. The St Valentine relics are in a separate reliquary normally kept under a shrine to the Saint. It is not known what exactly is in the reliquary as it has never been opened. However it is recognized that there may be relics of this particular St Valentine in up to 10 different locations – not surprising when one thinks of the numbers of bones in a  skeleton! But, no matter! Whitefriars Church in Dublin,marks the feast of St. Valentine each year with special ceremonies that includes the blessings of rings. A beautiful sentimental tradition attached the the most ecstatic emotion of LOVE!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers!

References:

http://carmelites.ie

http://www.history.com

 

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions