Report from Louisiana: Christmas Cards

SHREVEPORT – One of the small joys I get from the Christmas season is receiving Christmas cards from friends and family spread across the country. I love the colorful envelopes, the pretty Christmas stamps, and the cards themselves: glittery snow, red Santas, cherubic angels, foil stars, the works.

I find in years when Thanksgiving is late and Christmas seems so quick, there are fewer cards in my mailbox: people run out of time for the task.

One of my childhood memories is of my mother going to the stationery store, selecting the annual Christmas card, and having them imprinted.  When they arrived, ready for addressing, she would pull out the address book and sit at the dining room table with stamps, pens, and get to work. Some recipients would get a brief message or note, and then she would address each envelope in her beautiful, perfect script. That handwriting got shakier through the years and eventually she quit sending cards altogether with the exception of a very few. Mom had a red and white felt Santa, trimmed in sequins, that hung on a door and we tucked all the cards inside Santa’s beard, which was a pocket.

With my own cards I am less formal. I select a box or two at the store that reflect my mood of the moment and in each I usually write a brief message. My cards this year reflect Santa in a pirogue as he poles up to a wooden swamp cabin, Spanish moss hanging overhead. Some years I opt for the traditional Christmas scenes, other years Snoopy.

I’ve never been one to send the generic Christmas letter but we do have some relatives who write three page epistles to tuck into their cards about every doctors appointment and children’s report card that happened through the year.

And it seems that almost every year there around this time there is a touching story of a terminally ill child who only wants Christmas cards and then the hospital is inundated with thousands of cards.

In more recent years, it seems Christmas cards have morphed into cardstock covered with photos of the sender’s beautiful and prosperous year. Many of these include photos of people dressed in khaki and white standing on a beach somewhere, everyone in matching shirts and color coordinated. The selfie-card is a close relative of the three-page Christmas letter.

The tradition of Christmas cards began in 1843 with Henry Cole according to The Smithsonian and has evolved through the years:

Cole hit on an ingenious idea. He approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size. At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:_____” allowing Cole to personalize his responses, which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.” It was the first Christmas card.

As we celebrate Christmas with our families and friends this week, I wish you all a Merry Christmas from Louisiana and I hope you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

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