Today, Christmas cards have their own familiar, comforting iconography: Santa Claus, candy canes, snowmen, gingerbread houses, etc. But, back in the 19th century, people were still figuring this stuff out. For them, a Christmas card might reasonably include a picture of one frog stabbing another or a jellyfish floating over a child’s head. Over at Hyperallergic, Allison Meier presents a brief history of creepy Victorian Christmas cards, complete with numerous eye-popping examples of the form. Like this thing:
The tradition goes back, the article explains, to Queen Victoria (1819-1901), whose own celebration of Christmas gave the fledgling holiday a serious boost in England. Illustrated, mass-produced Christmas cards caught on with the British people during Victoria’s reign. Card makers of the era drew from Christian and pagan images, as well as what Meier calls “the general interests of the era, whether science, art, or religion.” Hence, the aforementioned jellyfish card, which was intended to be educational as well as decorative:
Christmas cards were also a medium for social commentary. This image of a dead robin, for instance, is supposed to make people think of the urchins freezing to death in the streets of England. Merry Christmas, everybody!
For those who find themselves more attracted than repulsed by these images, Meier helpfully points readers toward some good sources for creepy Victorian Christmas cards. The Twitter account @HorribleSanity (“Tweeter of damn fool nonsense”) has been posting them regularly of late. Here’s a real doozy in which a frog (another frog?) dances merrily with a giant insect. What any of this has to do with the birth of Christ is unclear, but the creatures seem to be having a grand time nevertheless.
The entire article, with plenty of Yuletide nightmare fuel, may be enjoyed here.