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 CLEVELAND, Nov. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- For most families, sending Christmas cards is a time-honored tradition as important as baking cookies and decorating the family tree. But exactly how did the custom of exchanging cards begin?
 According to research gathered by American Greetings, the tradition stems from an Old English custom. "The first Christmas card designed for sale featured a Victorian scene and a simple message: 'Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You,'" said Chris Riddle, who heads up the Christmas Creative team at American Greetings. "It was hand-painted by the British artist John Calcott Horsely in 1843."
 The enactment of the Penny Postage Act in 1846 allowed British citizens to send a letter anywhere in England for just one penny, and laid the groundwork for the commercial success of the Christmas card.
 Louis Prang, a German who settled in Boston in 1850, established the Christmas card in the U.S. His early designs were no larger than business cards and bore the simple inscription, "Merry Christmas." By the 1880s, Prang's Christmas cards had grown in size to seven by nine inches.
 Prang perfected the lithographic process of multicolor printing in the 1870s, often using as many as 20 colors on a single card. By 1881, his thriving business was printing five million cards per year.
 Following the turn of the century, Christmas cards continued to evolve. Depression era cards expressed hope that better times were ahead. During World War II, many Christmas cards depicted Uncle Sam and other patriotic motifs. Santa Claus also came into vogue during this time period.
 Humorous cards were a hit during the Cold War years, sparking the development of Studio cards, which are still popular today. Flower children and peace symbols adorned many Christmas cards of the 1960s.
 A renewed emphasis on family values sparked an interest in traditional holiday symbolism and nostalgia in the 1970s. Holiday wreaths, charming Holly Hobbie characters, glowing fireplaces hung with stockings, and Currier and Ives scenes expressed a longing for hearth and home.
 Riddle said diversity is the key to successful Christmas cards in the '90s. "Today, the philosophy is to offer something for everyone. We call it 'micromarketing.' In our 1993 Christmas collection, we offer cards in 13 foreign languages, special Afro centric designs, large print cards for people with reduced vision, and just about every conceivable style under the sun, from religious to cute to traditional. Activity cards and three-dimensional pop-out cards are favorites for sending to children.
 "One of the biggest trends we've noted is the growing interest in so- called 'alternative' Christmas cards, which offer a witty, sometimes satirical look at holiday traditions, current events and pop culture," Riddle said.
 A typical American Greetings alternative card depicts Socks, the Clinton family cat, knocking over the national tree during the annual White House tree-lighting ceremony. Another card recommends leaving Santa a plate of pierogis on Christmas Eve instead of cookies and milk, since Santa is "North Polish." Alternative humor is especially popular with younger shoppers, baby-boomers and men.
 -0- 11/23/93
 /NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos and product samples are available/
 /CONTACT: Laurie Henrichsen, marketing/public relations coordinator, of American Greetings, 216-252-4943/

CO: American Greetings Corp. ST: Ohio IN: HOU SU:

LV -- NYHFNS6 -- 7067 11/23/93 06:51 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 23, 1993

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