Mince pies are in the shops, Christmas songs emanate from every corner, the lights have been turned on and the streets are packed with busy shoppers. The Christmas season is well and truly underway. To celebrate the Christmas period we have delved into our collections to find some historical, Christmas spirit related presents for you.
The custom of sending Christmas cards was begun in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole and has since become a mainstay of the festive period. 678.9 million Christmas cards were sent in the United Kingdom in 2010. Hampshire Archives and Local Studies has an assortment of Christmas cards dating back to the mid-late 19th century. Included in our collection are some beautiful hand-painted cards depicting flowers, butterflies, horses and Christmas messages. There are also some wonderful original Christmas cards including a cat knitting next to a stocking with the message ‘Stock-in Greetings’. The artwork for the card was created by Louis Wain, an English artist best known for his drawings of large eyed-cats and kittens with anthropomorphised features – perfectly displayed in this Christmas card.
Christmas cards have also been sent during more troubled times, such as the First World War. Many of the Christmas cards are home-made with illustrations depicting life on the Front at Christmas. Letters and diaries were also written during the First World War which recorded Christmas spirit in action when soldiers on both sides stopped fighting and, in some cases, played football on 25 December 1914. A letter home from William Smith remarks:
“This Christmas has been the most extraordinary one I have ever experienced…. Everyone was a friend, our boys changed cigs for cigars and rum for wine. Our boys shook hands and talked together. The regiment on our left was having a football match with them. One Hun kicked an Englishman and he gave him a punch in the jaw, that finished that game. The Germans all said they wished to get home again, so do we.”
Not only do we have Christmas cards and letters to family members, but also letters to Father Christmas himself. Bruce Rivers Butchart wrote his letter to Father Christmas at the beginning of the 20th century. He asked for a toy shield and sword and signed the letter with ‘lots of love’ accompanied by plenty of kisses.
Last but not least, we have a photograph of Frederick Bowker, from the early twentieth century, getting into the Christmas spirit. He dressed up as Father Christmas in this superb coloured photograph including the traditional red gown and long white beard which we all know and love today. He even has his initials FB in red on his slippers.
Hampshire Record Office is hosting a free children’s activity where they can learn all about the history of Christmas cards, see historic examples, and make their own, for children aged three and above on Monday 19 December, 2-4pm
All of us from Hampshire Archives and Local Studies wish you a Merry Christmas and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year as you uncover Hampshire’s historical gems.