Christmas cards that you may not want to receive…

Christmas in Victorian times conjures up visions such as a  happy family gathered around a brightly lit Christmas trees,  plump Christmas puddings, an old fashioned Santa surrounded by laughing children awaiting their gifts and scenes from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. However, there was a darker side to the Victorian Christmas experience, which to our modern sensibilities seems macabre and very strange.

Christmas Curiosiites

In Christmas curiosities: Old, dark and forgotten Christmas author John Grossman draws on an extensive collection of antique greeting cards, postcards, advertising material and other ephemera to explore a different world of 19th century Christmas celebrations.



dead bird

Grossman shows us two Christmas cards from the 1880s which feature beautifully drawn images of dead birds and which wish their recipients “May yours be a Joyful Christmas” and “A Loving Christmas Greeting”. He says that a picture of a dead robin or wren (both bird species were beloved and considered sacred in British folklore) were “bound to elicit Victorian sympathy and may reference common stories of poor children freezing to death at Christmas”. Was this a genuine attempt to raise awareness of social injustice and change society or would the person who received such a card really just smugly consider themselves better off than a homeless orphan?


Continental children were not spared the horror of Christmas. When Santa Claus comes to town we sing that he is going to “find out who’s naughty and nice”. In Europe during throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the holy St. Nicholas enlisted the devil to help with his deliveries. St. Nicholas gave out treats to well-behaved children, while the devil, who appeared in many guises, kidnapped the bad kids and beat them with a stick! Perhaps “Grub vom Krampus” (Greetings from Krampus) in Germanic Christmas tradition, served as a warning akin to “You better watch out!”

Quirky or just plain scary? Why not decide for yourself by putting a hold on Christmas curiosities: Old, dark and forgotten Christmas, or check out any of our thousands of Christmas related resources through the library catalogue.