A Christmas card and history

Eastern Yellow Robin, Dec 5, Coffs Botanic Gardens

The invasion by the Spanish Armada having failed, Queen Elizabeth I issued a royal charter authorizing British merchants to trade in the East Indies on behalf of the crown. The East India Company became the world’s most powerful (and ruthless) business. Mike Davis sums it up: ‘If the history of British rule in India were to be condensed into a single fact, it is this: there was no increase in India’s per capita income from 1757 to 1947.’ [i]

March 1846: British victory in the first Anglo-Sikh war. Kashmir is ceded to the British East India Company and the Koh-i-Noor diamond is surrendered to Queen Victoria. Two years later, India became an official colony, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the powerful British Empire. India was the one of the largest economies in the world, for about two and a half millennia starting around the end of 1st millennium BC and ending around the beginning of British rule in India. Britain drained India of its wealth and prestige.

December 1846: 1,000 Christmas greeting cards went on sale for the first time in Bond Street, London. It was Sir Henry Cole’s idea (founder of the V&A). The central image showed his family enjoying a feast, two others showed charity being handed to the poor. They sold like hot cakes and the tradition of Christmas cards began (now fading away).

Victorian postmen were nicknamed robins because of their red uniforms. Christmas cards began to use illustrations of bright and cheery postmen delivering cards. Then some artists drew the actual bird, often carrying Christmas cards in its bill. I think  there’s another reason robins became a very popular theme on cards. Most British robins don’t fly south for the sun in winter but defend their territories year-round. They are a common sight at Christmas time, and not being shy and with a bright red breast, easily seen.

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