Sending New Year’s Greetings

New Year's Greetings.  ca. 1910.  The Connecticut Historical Society.

New Year’s Greetings. ca. 1910. The Connecticut Historical Society.

Did you know that New Year’s cards were once nearly as common and popular as Christmas cards?  While Christmas was at first a religious and then a family holiday, New Year’s Day was long a traditional occasion for visiting one’s friends and exchanging good wishes.  It was also a purely secular holiday, celebrated and enjoyed by people of all religious persuasions.  At the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, holiday postcards were all the rage.  They were an easy and inexpensive way to send greetings, requiring little more than a penny stamp, a scribbled address and a sentence or two—not so different from an email or a text message, except that they were hand-delivered by a postman, not sent electronically via the Internet.  The Connecticut Historical Society has a large collection of historic postcards and greeting cards.  Though not all of them were made in Connecticut, all of them were sent or received by people who lived in the State a century or more ago.  I wonder how we will manage to collect and preserve the electronic greeting cards that so many people favor today and if it will still be possible to access them and view them a hundred years from now.

Sending Holiday Wishes is Changing

Xmas card St Nicholas005Communication has been changing much quicker in the past few years. Letters have been replaced with emails, phone calls replaced with texts, and Christmas cards and birthday cards replaced with Facebook wall posts. Continue reading

Some Holiday Sparkle

Christmas OrnamentThe end of the year and with it the approaching holidays always get me to thinking about the past twelve months. Sort of a time for personal reflection, thoughts of things that went great and those that didn’t. I guess it all boils down to memory, which is our link between the present and the past.

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Celebrating Christmas in Connecticut


Armstrong Family Christmas Tree. Photograph by William G. Dudley, ca. 1924. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1995.36.1583

Looking at old prints and photographs in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, I’m surprised how little Christmas customs have changed over the years.  Though Christmas in colonial Connecticut was primarily a religious affair, by the Victorian age, it had become a family holiday, complete with presents delivered by Santa and those eight tiny reindeer.  The earliest Christmas trees were introduced in the mid-nineteenth century and begin appearing regularly in family photographs shortly after 1900.  A group of photographs from the 1910s and 1920s show how the decorations of the Christmas trees of the Armstrong family of Groton, Connecticut evolved over the years.  The earliest photos show small tabletop trees; by the 1920s, decorations include electric lights.  The piles of presents beneath these trees suggest that Christmas shopping was as much a part of holiday preparations in the 1920s as it is today.  Even before Christmas trees became popular and widespread, people in Connecticut were sending Christmas cards with season’s greetings.  The small town of Northford, Connecticut was an important center of Christmas card production during the 1870s.  These elaborate cards incorporated glitter and fringe to appeal to the taste of their customers.  Christmas shopping, decorated Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas presents and family gatherings all figure prominently in my memories of growing up in Connecticut and they remain a part of holiday celebrations today.  Christmas is a time to reflect about the past, and it’s nice to know that in some basic ways, people in the 1800s and 1900s weren’t so very different from ourselves.    Happy Holidays!