A Calcutta Christmas

It was in 1843, only five years after the then-young Queen Victoria first sat on the throne, that the modern Christmas Card made its debut. Sir Henry Cole and his artist friend, JC Horsley, devised the first Christmas Card. The postal rates had just been drastically reduced with the introduction of the ‘Penny Post’, and Ms. Cole and Horsley had sought a way to encourage the common man to make greater use of the postal system. Like most new things however, the Christmas Card took time to catch on and it was only in the later half of the nineteenth century that they became really popular.

Most of the imagery on Victorian Era Christmas Cards continued to be dominated by nativity scenes, idealized snow-clad landscapes, robins bearing letters and so forth. Imagery, in other words, that was deeply evocative of an European winter festival.

Anyone who has been to Calcutta during Christmas knows however, the Calcuttan’s love for Christmas. Frequently without much reference to traditional Christian themes and certainly little interest in snow-clad winters, the Calcutta Christmas has its own distinctive flavor. Whats more is that this distinctive Calcutta Christmas is not a novelty. It had already acquired some characteristic domestic colors in the age of Queen Vic.

Precisely when the first Christmas Cards were printed in Calcutta is unfortunately lost in the mists of time. Nor does history tell us when local artists first begun to experiment with local imagery on these Christmas Cards. What has come down to us however, are a few of these early cards. Here are a set of three cards possibly printed between 1908 and 1912. All three cards are illustrated by an unknown artist who signed his name as “Geo. D.”. Through humor and caricature, the artist presented a distinctly native Christmas on these cards.

The cards were printed by the famous Thacker, Spink & Co., famous booksellers and publishers, who had operated in Calcutta from 1818 to 1933. Today Thacker, Spink & Co. are mostly remembered for having been one of Rudyard Kipling’s early publishers. But besides books, they also published postcards. It might well have been the latter that got them into Christmas Cards. Unfortunately, I have not seen too many of these cards and wonder how many more there might have been? Naturally, I also wonder about Geo. [George? Geoffrey?] D.? Who was he and what else did he draw?

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