33 Creepy Christmas Cards That People Actually Sent Each Other In The Victorian Era
By Kaleena Fraga | Edited By Cara Johnson
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.
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A mouse rides a lobster in this strange Victorian Christmas card. The card reads "Paix, Joie, Santé, Bonheur" or "Peace, Joy, Health, and Happiness." Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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This dead bird seems like an odd thing to send as a Christmas card, though it may have something to do with the Victorian tradition of killing a wren or robin for good luck on December 26th.Public Domain
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Then again, it's possible that the bird in the previous card was just drunk — like the birds in this 1876 card that got into the Christmas punch.Public Domain
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A clown cuts into a pie in this creepy Victorian Christmas card. The caption reads: "Compliments of the season."Public Domain
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The caption of this card from the 1880s reads "A Merry Christmas to you" beneath the image of a frog who has apparently just been robbed and murdered.Public Domain
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There's no murder in this Victorian Christmas card from 1888, just animals playing instruments.Special Collections Department, Postcard Collection, Enoch Pratt Free Library
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The caption of this card reads "Compliments of the season" and depicts red ants fighting against black ants. University of Glasgow Library/Flickr
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These birds may be carrying torches, but they apparently are meant to send the message: "May all jollity lighten your Christmas hours."Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington
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This Victorian Christmas card poses a puzzling question: "Who's afraid?"Public Domain
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A goat appears to surprise a boy eating fruit in this Victorian Christmas card.Public Domain
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Frogs were apparently a popular motif for Victorian Christmas cards. This one contains a lesson about frogs who disobeyed their mother to go ice skating and "came to grief."Nova Scotia Archives/Flickr
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A small cat apparently called "Jack the Giant-Killer" holds a knife and hides behind a mug as a bigger cat prepares to eat dinner.Mary Evans Picture Library/Public Domain
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A human infant bursts out of an egg in this Victorian Christmas card.Public Domain
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Two chickens sled in the snow in this card.Public Domain
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Two huntsmen chase a fox on a wooden horse in this card from circa 1880.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Cats gather on a roof as a man peers through his window in this Christmas card from 1880.Toronto Public Library
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In this card, a couple mischievously douses a band playing music beneath their window.Public Domain
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This Victorian Christmas card offers a rather grim message.Public Domain
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Two cats take a stroll in this card.Derbyshire County Council Record Office
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Two women push Father Christmas in a snowball in this card from 1879.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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A frog dances with a roach in this Victorian Christmas card.Swim Ink 2, LLC/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
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Four frogs with umbrellas and matching stockings stand beneath the message "Every good wish for your Christmas."Library of Birmingham
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A monkey paints a portrait of a dog in this Victorian Christmas card.Public Domain
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Animals painting each other was apparently a popular motif, as a kangaroo paints a bird in this Christmas card, one of the first in Australia. Sydney Living Museums
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Owls ride bicycles and tricycles on this bizarre card.Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
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Some Victorians apparently used shellfish to express season's greetings in 1876.National Library of Ireland/Flickr
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A robin family takes a walk on a snowy morning in this card from circa 1870.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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A rooster, turtle, and duck fight in this Victorian Christmas card from 1880. New York Public Library/Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
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Father Christmas matter-of-factly stuffs a frightened child into a sack in this card from 1900.Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections
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Children recoil from this scarily melting snowman.Public Domain
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Indeed, snowmen in Victorian Christmas cards didn't seem quite as jolly as they do today.Public Domain
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This monster seems to be made from various parts of a Christmas dinner.Manchester Metropolitan University
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Over a hundred years ago, this Victorian Christmas card may have made someone laugh — if not recoil in fear.Public Domain
33 Creepy Christmas Cards That People Actually Sent Each Other In The Victorian Era
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.