Christmas Card History Mystery

Question – December 15, 2016

A quick look at this Victorian greeting card from our collection and you might assume that it was designed for a spring holiday or special occasion.  But take a closer look and you’ll see that it is actually a Christmas card!  Many Christmas cards from the 1880s in our collection feature a spring theme with various flowers.  If you want to find out more about these flower-inspired Christmas cards, return on Dec. 22!

Answer – December 22, 2016

Victorian Christmas cards often depicted nature and feature a variety of flowers that bloom from spring through early fall.  These examples from 1882-1883 feature spring-blooming flowers including violets (pictured above), sweet-pea, daffodils and lily of the valley (pictured below).  While this may seem an odd choice for the wintry season, it helped to remind residents living by candlelight or gas-lit fixtures that sunnier days were ahead.  The winter solstice takes place near Christmas and marks the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Each new day after the solstice brings a little more sunlight to people living with the cold, dark reality of winters without electric lighting and efficient heating.

Flowers also held special meaning in the 19th century and were used to convey specific sentiments and feelings.  Kate Greenaway’s “Language of Flowers” was first published in 1884 and helped codify and standardize the symbolic meaning of flowers that had been in use for centuries. According to Greenaway, blue violets signify “faithfulness,” daffodils express “regards,” lily of the valley connote the “return of happiness,” and sweet pea indicates “delicate pleasures.”

No matter how you decide to interpret these flowery Christmas cards, we wish you a very happy holiday season!

Kathleen Fahey, Curator

Christmas cards, 1882-1883, from the Aiken Family Collection at the Wellesley Historical Society.