It was bound to happen. There was only one this year: a lone Christmas card arriving in my mailbox, stoically spreading Christmas cheer and best wishes for the season. Likely, next year there will be none and although we may discover new ways to spread cheer, via emails or seasonal emojis, but for me, the demise of the Christmas card is cause for some lament.
The museum has a collection of Christmas cards, that in addition to being a poignant reminder of their long gone senders, inadvertently tell a social history of colonial Australia. There is nary a pine tree, bell or snowman to be seen. European settlers realised early on that celebrating the holiday with traditional accompaniments didn’t fit with an Australian summer and they quickly embraced Christmas by the water.
Residents and immigrants used Christmas cards to send love and wishes back ‘home’. These utopian scenes did as much for tourism and immigration to Australia as they did in spreading Christmas cheer. Beachside ‘bathing’ scenes were a popular topic on the cards as were water sports such as rowing, fishing and sailing. We were becoming a nation of maritime lovers in as many ways as we could.
Not restricted to cliché, Christmas themes or garish modern graphics, early cards served as a snapshot into the aspirations of the colonies and how colonial Australia wanted to be seen. Outdoorsy and healthy, yet still retaining a touch of the genteel. Embracing Australia’s uniqueness yet hanging on to a sense of British tradition. A country that was bursting with opportunities and untouched natural beauty.
And so, as the humble Christmas card likely fades into obscurity, I am beyond grateful that these small paper tokens of love and best wishes have found their way into the museum collection. As much for the enormous diversity and quirkiness of the images, as for the eternal messages of peace and good will they carried.— Myffanwy Bryant, Curatorial Assistant
Want to see more postcards and seasonal greetings from the past? Why not check out our collection online (Warning: you might lose a few hours doing this).