December 2017 - Lougheed House

What’s the deal with Christmas cards?

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The Lougheeds were avid Christmas Card senders – you can see a few of their yearly holiday cards down in the Ballroom exhibition area, including some featuring photographs of the House, the garden, and even the family’s idyllic Banff residence, which they called “Restinghere.” As it turns out, people had been pestering each other with XMAS GREETINGS! for almost a hundred years before these particular cards were ever made! But how did we get here?

An early Christmas card from our archives (date unknown).

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, had a problem. Sir Cole didn’t just like holiday mail; he loved the post system so much that he had helped create the Uniform Penny Post, a crown corporation which monopolized the British postal system, allowing any British citizen to send mail anywhere in Great Britain and Ireland for a penny (est. between 1-5 modern GBP, or $1.69-8.47 CAD). Every holiday season, Cole was positively drowned in letters bearing Soppy Season’s Greetings – far too many to reply to. But on this particular year, he decided to take control the only way a Victorian Gentlemen knew how to, and mechanize the process!

Cole’s solution was to commission illustrator John Callcott Horsley to create a seasonal greeting card in dimensions that could be easily mailed. The design featured three generations of Coles raising a punch toast (the original holiday family photo, you might say), accompanied by the words “A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU,” with extra space for a brief customized greeting for each recipient. Using new chromolithographic processes, Sir Cole had 1000 colour post cards created, which he then used to respond to his mountains of seasonal mail. Ever the shrewd business man, he then sold the remaining cards for the (very steep) price of a shilling apiece.

An early Christmas card from our archives (date unknown).

Within a few years, scores of imitators flooded the market, driving the price down to the point where Christmas cards became an affordable working-class tradition. In November, 2001, one of Cole’s original cards, of which only a dozen are known to survive, became the most valuable postcard ever sold at auction, claiming £22,500 ($38,123 CAD). – Adam Sarjeant, Admissions Assistant

Getting to Know A Christmas Carol

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Like many of our visitors, you may be excited for our upcoming sold-out, solo performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by Steven Méthot, a Calgary writer, storyteller and musician who performs the entire story from memory and animates the voices of all 30 characters.

What you might not be aware of is that this beloved holiday classic was just one of many books Dickens wrote in a very deliberate attempt to re-frame how British subjects thought about the Christmas season.

Steven Méthot as Charles Dickens

In 1843, Dickens returned to England after a year-long tour of the United States and Canada. Witnessing the effects of slavery strengthened Dickens’ faith in his progressive ideals, and within weeks of his return he resolved to embark on a project to “strike a sledge-hammer blow” for the poor and socially marginalized. At the time, Dickens was at the zenith of his popularity; Queen Victoria herself had publicly praised both Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers. Dickens was keenly aware that he had become a major social phenomenon, and that his next work would have the potential to seriously effect English society. Seizing on the recent popular revival of Christmas by the Oxford movement (a movement of Anglican ministers seeking to revive Catholic traditions), Dickens began a series of five short novels which he hoped could introduce his Progressive Humanist philosophy to a broader audience by encouraging his readers to view Christmas as synonymous with Humanist virtues such as charity, temperance and “good will towards men.” In 1843 he published the enormously popular A Christmas Carol, followed by The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), which was more popular than both its predecessors until the 20th century, The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain (1848). All focused on Progressive themes, and all but The Battle of Life took place during the holidays.

Charles Dickens’ efforts were the opening salvo in an enormous shift in the culture of Christmas. Between 1843 and 1850, Traditions of gift-giving and other non-religious forms of celebration were gradually shifted from New Years’ Day to Christmas Day, while depictions of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children celebrating Germanic Christmas traditions borrowed from Prince Albert’s Bavarian upbringing, helped to solidify a new way of celebrating Christmas in the home, as well as in the church. – Adam Sarjeant, Admissions Assistant