A brief and utterly unreliable history of the Christmas card

For many generations after the events of the First Christmas, nobody bothered to celebrate it. For one thing, they’d sort of lost track of the original, except that it was probably sometime in the Judean summer somewhere between 4 and 7 B.C. It didn’t matter all that much until Christianity spread into Darkest Europe.

Darkest Europe makes David Livingstone’s Africa look like a chamber music concert in Central Park. People painted themselves blue and didn’t even sell tickets. They worshipped a lot of perpetually petulant gods like Odin and Thor, who were always murdering each other and then whacking some poor mortals.

It was in this time of great moral and spiritual darkness that an English peasant, Hal L. Mark, decided to brighten everyone’s Winter Solstice with a newfangled invention. Taking a large stick of wood, wood being the only material available in large quantities, he carved a special “Yule Greeting” and hove it across his wretched, plague-ridden village, where it smote his friend Ulrich   upside the head.

The heaving of Yule logs at one another remained a popular pastime until paper was rediscovered, which was also the time that Hal’s great-great grandson, Hal L. Mark IV, converted to Christianity.

His new religion frowned on all that smiting, so Hal turned his penchant for mayhem to the English language itself. His newfangled paper “Christmas Missives” said things like “Fahoo fores dahoo dores/Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer. Fahoo fores dahoo dores/Gonna smite big Olaf on the ear.”

This was unpopular with Big Olaf, and after Hal healed up some, he decided to stick with cuddly babies and farm animals, since by now he had a tenuous grasp of the Gospel of Luke. It was his son, however, Hal L. Mark V, who removed the snorting bulls, butting goats and spitting camels in favor of some less truculent animals like sheep and cows.

We have Hal’s wife, Martha, to thank for the addition of glitter, which she discovered laying around the medieval mica quarries and applied to the cards in liberal doses. Yes, the tradition of having a sparkly forehead for the entire holiday season was started in those early years and perfected as both glitter and glue failed to evolve.

The means of sending cards have changed some, too. In the ancient days, people sent Hal Mark’s greetings to people living within a stone’s throw. This is because, following the tradition of the Yule Log Toss, the greetings were often tied to a stone and actually hurled across the village. Christmas card delivery was a popular sport for males and eventually turned into modern baseball, with fewer concussions.

Eventually people wanted to send greetings to distant friends and relatives, and only the very wealthiest could afford to hire someone to ride for miles over the countryside throwing rocks. People banded together and hired riders, called Vandals, who had to be paid handsome sums to carry the cards and fling their rocks at all and sundry. They had to be paid even more to stop doing this, so eventually the government got involved.

The result of that involvement was the Royal Mail, which became the Postal Service on this side of the Atlantic. The rock-throwing problem was solved, because the Royal Mail promptly lost 80 percent of the cards, and the other 20 percent were delivered in July, with the original rock worn down to a gravel. They found that leaving the rocks behind reduced the weight, and thence we have our modern Christmas card tradition.

So, dear friends, on this Christmas Day, gather your little ones around you and read your cards without fear of rocks or logs. The only thing being flung with impunity today is our heartfelt wish for peace on earth, goodwill to all. Merry Christmas.

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