33 Creepy Christmas Cards That People Actually Sent Each Other In The Victorian Era

Published December 19, 2022
Updated December 20, 2022

Featuring everything from murderous frogs to dead birds, Victorian Christmas cards were often more disturbing than they were jolly.

The Victorian age is often thought of as a time of high collars, corsets, and unsmiling photos. But Victorians had a wry sense of humor beneath their stony exterior, and many used the holidays to enjoy the new tradition of sending Christmas cards — the weirder the better.

Lobster Christmas Card
Dead Bird Christmas Card
Drunk Birds
Clown Christmas Card
33 Creepy Christmas Cards That People Actually Sent Each Other In The Victorian Era
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Indeed, Victorian Christmas cards don't look much like the Christmas cards that people send today. In place of rosy-cheeked Santa Clauses, angels, plump snowmen, and family portraits, Victorians sent eyebrow-raising illustrations of dead birds, murderous frogs, and terrifying Christmas monsters.

Why? The simple explanation is that sending Christmas cards was a new trend that emerged in the Victorian age and took time to develop. But the truth is that historians aren't exactly sure why Victorians sent such bizarre cards. Some imagery may have been drawn from British folklore, but other cards were probably sent as a conversation piece or for scrapbooking.

"The Victorians had a different idea to what Christmas was about — not particularly Christian, but a time of good humor," Stephanie Boydell, the curator of special collections at Manchester Metropolitan University, explained to the BBC. "You may find a mouse riding a lobster strange — I find it funny. It's horses for courses."

Boydell added that while Victorians indeed sent plenty of odd Christmas cards, they also sent more typically Christmassy ones that featured motifs like wrapped gifts and Santa Claus, or Father Christmas.

One Good Turn Deserves Another Card

Mary Evans Picture Library/Public DomainThis surprisingly gruesome Victorian Christmas card from the 1890s quips: "One good turn deserves another."

"For all the more unusual ones, there were probably 1,001 entirely Christmassy ones," she said. "It's just the unusual ones which stand out."

According to HISTORY, the very first Christmas card was sent just six years into the Victorian age when Sir Henry Cole commissioned 1,000 cards in 1843. Cole, a civil servant, commissioned the cards in order to easily reply to the scores of messages sent to him.

As the Postal Museum explains, Cole sent out many of the hand-painted cards and sold others under the pseudonym Felix Summerly.

First Victorian Christmas Card

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty ImagesThe very first Victorian Christmas card, sent in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, doesn't look too different from today's cards, though it does feature some children drinking wine.

But things really took off over the following decades. As HISTORY reports, the British government made sending mail infinitely more affordable in 1870 with the introduction of the halfpenny. And as woodcuts made mass production of cards a reality, more people started to send each other holiday cards.

Sending Christmas cards was just one tradition that begin during the Victorian age. The marriage of Queen Victoria to the German-born Prince Albert ushered in other traditions as well, like decorating a Christmas tree with candles, sweets, fruits, and gifts.

Christmas Card With Birds And Bugs

University of Glasgow Library/FlickrThere's a lot going on this Victorian Christmas card featuring a goldfinch, a bee, and a cricket.

And as Christmas increased in importance — again, perhaps because of Prince Albert's Germanic roots — Victorians developed other holiday traditions as well. According to Mental Floss, they also played spirited parlor games, dug into feasts that included dishes like mock turtle soup, shot at pedestrians with peashooters, and attended cattle exhibitions.

Of all their traditions, however, Victorian Christmas cards may be the strangest. In the gallery above, look through 33 Christmas cards from the Victorian age that depict dead frogs, dancing insects, jolly shellfish, terrifying snowmen, and more.


After looking through these delightfully strange Victorian Christmas cards, enjoy these 27 bizarre facts about Victorian life. Or, see some examples of Victorian death photos and discover the tragic reason why people of the age decided to take them.

author
Kaleena Fraga
author
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
editor
Cara Johnson
editor
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "33 Creepy Christmas Cards That People Actually Sent Each Other In The Victorian Era." AllThatsInteresting.com, December 19, 2022, https://allthatsinteresting.com/victorian-christmas-cards. Accessed June 23, 2024.