I don’t know about you, but trying to find the perfect greeting card at the local store is the worst form of torture for me. There are so many choices that I feel overwhelmed. Then I think I’ve found one, only to stare at it for what feels like hours. Is it too cheesy? Does it say what I want it to say? Is it funny enough? There are just so many things that could go wrong with something that will likely just end up sitting on a mantle for a few days before being tossed away. It’s the worst.
Well, in digging through the archives this past week, I came across the early version of these torturous greeting cards. Did you know that the first greeting cards were invented for Christmas in Europe in the 1840s? By the end of the 1800s, holiday cards for Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day were extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The first of these cards were simple postcard style cards, with a picture of the Easter Bunny, a large heart or a Christmas tree on the front, but by the turn of the 20th century, the cards had become elaborate displays of colors, shapes and design. This detail even carried over the envelopes, which often had colored and gold-detailed interiors.
These cards remained elaborate throughout the first few decades of the 20th century. Many early Easter cards featured white lilies, which symbolized life after death because the bulb grows, blooms, dies and grows once again during the following year. When World War I reached the American shores, cards still remained popular, but instead of Easter eggs, the cards featured soldiers beside the Easter Bunny. Today, wishing someone a happy Easter is as easy as picking up the phone, or typing out a text or email, but for a community of people who relied on the mail to send well wishes to those farther than their feet could carry them, the Easter card was a fun and easy way to show someone you cared. Small notes of well wishes were added to the back of these cards before they were sent to their recipients.
In some cases, Easter cards were actually small booklets which contained beautiful verses of love, friendship and hope. Emma Rathert sent one of these booklets to Mrs. Mary Muenzenmayer and the poems and sayings inside showcase the spirit of love that Easter cards brought to their recipients. Among these kind words are : “It is a good thing to be rich, and a good thing to be strong, but it is a better thing to beloved by many friends.” As well as, “If any little love of mine may make a life the sweeter, If any little care of mine May make a friend’s the fleeter, If any lift of mine may ease The burden of another, God give me love and care and strength To help my toiling brother.” So, maybe in these early years of greeting cards, it was not so hard to choose because they all contained beautiful sentiments to share a loving thought with friends and family.
This month, stop into the Geary County Historical Society and see our own collection of 20th century Easter cards featured in the Cool Things case in our lobby. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 1pm-4pm and free of charge.