Traditional Christmas cards remain more popular than electronic greetings, says Royal Mail

New research from the U.K.’s Royal Mail suggests traditional Christmas cards are heavily preferred compared to their electronic counterparts during the festive season.

An overwhelming 72 per cent of Brits said they would prefer to receive a traditional card this Christmas while only six per cent would prefer a festive greeting via social media and 10 per cent via text message. When it came to preferred designs, snow scenes topped the list with 23 per cent of people saying they would prefer a wintry image on their cards. This was followed by humour (12 per cent); robins (eight per cent); and Nativity scenes (seven per cent). The research also discovered 64 per cent of those surveyed still had addresses and postcodes written down in an address book.

“From the very first cards that we helped send back in 1843 to the millions of Christmas cards we handle each year, we are proud to have delivered season’s greetings across the UK for more than 170 years,” said Stephen Agar, managing director of consumer and network access at Royal Mail.


The recently released Greeting Card Association (GCA) Market Report 2016 shows the value sales of single Christmas cards increased to £184 million in the U.K. with 105 million cards being sold singly. In addition, the GCA estimates the value of cards sold in boxes and packs at £200 million with about 900 million cards sold in the U.K. This puts total U.K. Christmas card sales at a value of £384 million and with a volume of 1.05 billion cards purchased.

“As a nation we still like to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner, by sending cards to each other. It’s when the Christmas cards start arriving that we start to feel that lovely festive feeling in the lead up to Christmas. Christmas is a time of caring, keeping in touch, keeping emotionally connected with friends and family, reaching out to spread goodwill,” said GCA Chief Executive Sharon Little.

“The Christmas cards we receive are tokens of our friendships, bringing the people we care about into the hearth and home at this special time of year.”


Across Europe, people have distributed wood prints with religious themes for Christmas since the Middle Ages. The custom of sending Christmas cards as we know them today started in Britain from 1840, when the first “Penny Post” public postal deliveries began.

The first Christmas card was commissioned in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole who had helped to introduce the Penny Post service three years earlier. It was designed by John Horsley. It was printed and then hand-coloured.

Only 1,000 of these cards were printed and sold for one shilling each. At this price, the earliest Christmas cards were a luxury and not within the means of many people. One of the original 1,000 cards sent is also the most valuable in the world, according to Guinness World Records. The card, which was originally sent by Sir Henry Cole to his grandmother in 1843, was sold at an auction in Devizes, Wiltshire for £20,000 on Nov. 24, 2001. Another example was sold in December 2005 for £8,500.

Christmas cards, like the penny post, were designed to encourage people to post more but initially they garnered little enthusiasm. People were concerned that the card’s central illustration focused on the merriment of the season, rather than more charitable endeavours such as clothing the poor and feeding the hungry.

By 1860, objections to joyful holiday greetings had vanished and the custom of sending Christmas cards was well established in Britain.

Christmas cards quickly grew in popularity and became more accessible, with a range of cards produced and sent during the late 19th century, and early and mid-20th century, before turning into the cards we know today.


When Christmas cards were first used in Britain, the predominant colour was green. This reflected evergreen plants such as holly, ivy and mistletoe. The plants were used to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter.

In the mid to late 1800s, green was replaced with the ever popular robin gracing the front of cards. Royal Mail’s postmen and women were responsible for this change as around this time the postman’s uniform included a bright red waistcoat to match the official red of pillar boxes. The striking uniform resulted in postmen being referred to as “robin redbreasts.” The robin was introduced to Christmas cards as a symbol of the postmen who delivered the cards.

The late 19th century saw the creation of increasingly intricate designs highlighting the celebration of Christmas. Cards sent from the Western Front during the First World War offered hand-stitched festive greetings, whereas the era of rationing was reflected in cards sent in 1940 during the Second World War.

Christmas cards in the 1950s and 1960s were more simply illustrated with plainer colours and patterns.

From 1980 to the present day, Christmas cards have been more indicative of the time, reflecting the shift in society towards humour and satire. Although the designs over the past few years have had a greater emphasis on contemporary rather traditional imagery, the message of spreading Christmas wishes has remained the same.

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