Victorian Christmas Cards delivered dark holiday humor when it wasn’t a social faux pas. After all, nothing says Happy Holidays like a frog stabbing a fellow frog and escaping with what looks like a bag of loot. Yes, the Victorians also enjoyed cute children, happy snowmen and Jolly Santas in their Christmas ephemera. But we particularly like when Victorian Christmas cards delivered dark holiday humor.
What Were The Yuletide Victorian Secrets?
In the popular view, the Victorians have long been considered terminally humorless.
a strait-laced society who, in the words of their queen, were famously ‘not amused’. Historian Bob Nicholson of Edge Hill University writes in his 2015 article The Victorian Meme Machine: Remixing the Nineteenth-Century Archive:
“If we want to understand the importance of humour within Victorian Britain, and to unpack the social, cultural, and political work that it performed, then we need to find a way to recover some of these long-forgotten jokes and open them up to scholarly analysis.”
Nicholson’s project focuses on Victorian jokes as recorded in newspapers, journals, and ephemera. The goal is to to “build a high-quality, open access, research database of one million Victorian jokes.”
Scholarly analysis aside, the dark humor of these Victorian Christmas cards is oddly hilarious. What Victorian Secrets led to the creation of these strange, often sinister images? From the child boiling in a teapot to dead sparrows and an angry mob of birds carrying torches, it’s hard to imagine what triggered these Victorian Christmas cards. In truth, Christmas had a menacing side in many countries.
The 13 Yule Lads of Icelandic folklore dated back to pre-Christian time. They were the sons of two of the most hideous ogres ever known. Their mission was to strike terror in the hearts of children. They were used heartily by parents who wanted to frighten their children into behaving all year long.
And don’t forget Krampus, the dreaded half demon, half goat of many Alpine regions who punished bad children. There’s also Schmutzli, Santa’s sinister sidekick. It’s no wonder so many Victorian Christmas Cards went to the dark side.
The First Commercial Christmas Card
If you’re still sweating over your Christmas Card list, you can thank Sir Henry Cole for starting the tradition. He introduced the first commercially produced Christmas card in 1843. He commissioned John Callcott Horsley for its design. A total of 2,050 of these cards were printed and sold for a shilling each.
The Black Penny Postage Stamp
This was a calculated business move, since he was partially responsible for the Penny Post of May 1,1840. Prior to that, it was often the receiver who paid the postage. The Black Penny was the first adhesive postage stamp.
The Black Penny featured Queen Victoria, who was a huge fan of both Valentines and Christmas Cards. She helped to popularize Christmas cards along with decorated indoor Christmas trees, a tradition brought from Germany by Prince Albert. Queen Victoria and the Royal Family’s holiday cards reflected significant personal events of the year, much like the traditional Christmas letter.
Sir Henry Cole was a civil servant responsible for many innovations in both commerce and education. In 1850 he worked with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to establish the Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Fashionable Collectors Hoarded Victorian Christmas Cards
Advances in printing techniques in the 19th century, helped make Victorian Christmas cards affordable to the masses. Chromolithography was one of the most successful with its rich four-color prints. When the halfpenny stamp was introduced in the 1870s, sending Victorian Christmas cards became the rage.
Victorians were avid scrap bookers. They collected Valentines and Christmas cards the way we collect digital imagery on social media platforms. Thankfully, many of these scrapbooks still exist, saving the twisted humor of Victorian Christmas Cards for posterity.
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