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December 17, 2022

The Dead Birds and Murderous Frogs on Victorian Christmas Cards

In the 19th century, before festive Christmas cards became the norm, Victorians put a darkly humorous and twisted spin on their seasonal greetings. Some of the more popular subjects included anthropomorphic frogs, bloodthirsty snowmen and dead birds.

The first Christmas card was commercially produced by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 but it was not until the 1870s, and the introduction of the halfpenny stamp, that sending cards was affordable for almost everyone. Victorians then leapt upon the idea with alacrity.

It was usual in the 19th century for friends and relations to exchange letters at Christmas time, which has a collection of Victorian scrapbooks containing Christmas cards. They would tell of the year’s events and their wishes for the coming year.

Whilst early British Christmas cards usually featured winter scenes and religious themes such as the Nativity, a significant number of later Victorian Christmas were morbid, eccentric and humorously cruel in tone.

Some historians have suggested that the portrayal of dead animals on nineteenth century Christmas cards were meant to serve as a reminder of the poor and hungry during the holiday season. Stories of poor children freezing to death were common during the winter in Victorian England. However others have speculated that these creepy Christmas cards were simply beloved by the Victorians for their twisted, irreverent sense of humor. At a time when religion and duty pervaded almost every aspect of 19 century society, these weird Christmas cards may have provided some humorous respite.


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