The custom of sending Christmas cards began in Great Britain in 1843 when wealthy businessman Sir Henry Cole, along with his friend John Horsley, a talented commercial artist, devised the first Christmas greetings card that could be sent to business acquaintances.
This early printed card was both costly to produce in small numbers and to send. However, with improved printing methods and the capability to produce larger numbers at a lower cost, the Christmas card became more affordable to the masses. This coincided with the Royal Mail being able to drastically reduce the cost of postage as trains were able to bulk transport letters countrywide, something that had previously been done by horse and carriage.
The advent of the train was also a major factor in the increased demand for Christmas cards. Many family members began to travel to more distant cities to live and work; and with this separation, the card became a popular way to send personal greetings to absent friends and family at Christmas time.
Not surprisingly, this custom soon spread throughout the world and in 1875, printer Louis Prang started to produce affordable Christmas cards in North America. Those early images were mainly of Christmas flowers, rosy cheeked children and of course Santa Claus. Prang was selling five million cards annually, an impressive number for the time.
Today, more than 1.6 billion cards are sold every year in the US alone, and this year we celebrated Christmas Card Day Friday, December 9. Christmas cards have expanded to include non-religious holiday cards, humorous cards, winter landscapes, and other Christmas images.
“Christmas Serenity” a greetings card mouth painted by Mariam Paré
Nearly 60 years ago visionary artist Erich Stegmann, who painted with a brush held in his mouth, recognized the social and commercial value of the Christmas card when he founded the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA). He started with a small group of artists, who, like him, did not have the use of their hands to paint and they set about reproducing Christmas cards from their own original paintings and selling them direct to the public.
MFPA artists do not have the use of their hands either through accident, illness or birth and paint with the brush held in the mouth or the foot. Today, there are more than 800 artists in 78 countries who now belong to this unique worldwide art movement and commercial cause.
These remarkable painters earn their livings selling their work through MFPA in the form of Christmas greetings cards, calendars and a wide range of seasonal products. The work of MFPA artists has attracted the attention and support of former Vice President Al Gore, Prince Charles, Prince Harry, actor Pierce Brosnan, and the Pope.
Mariam Pare’ of Naperville, Ill., is one of 71 MFPA members in the U.S. She was the victim of random gun violence 20 years ago that rendered her quadriplegic.Her “Christmas Serenity” (pictured above) painting will be among the 2016 Christmas cards offered by MFPA.
“It’s such a joy to send or receive a Christmas card,” said Mariam. “And I think when, you know, you are supporting our cause, when you purchase an MFPA Christmas card, that joy is compounded.”
To purchase products created by these amazing artists, or to learn more about MFPA, go to www.mfpausa.com.