These emerged in the mid 19th century, combining an older custom of sending New Year verses to friends with the new emphasis on Christmas. The first was designed by John Calcott Horsley, at the instigation of Henry Cole, in 1843. A large central panel shows a family sitting with wine glasses in their hands, and a banner saying ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’; two side panels show a man and woman giving alms to the poor. Though this card was too expensive to be commercially successful, the idea gradually spread, and by the 1860s cheap cards were generally available. Religious symbolism is strikingly absent; family gatherings, dancing, eating, winter scenes, holly, and Christmas trees were the standard fare. An advertisement in the Illustrated London News of 17 November 1883 lists 27 categories of design, of which only two were remotely religious.
George Buday, The History of the Christmas Card (1954).