When dead birds were a good thing to put on Christmas cards

Henry Cole invented the Christmas Card in 1843 as a way to escape the drudgery of hand-writing a bunch of letters to his friends. In this article, Hunter Oatman-Stafford of Collectors Weekly presents the curious history of the Christmas card.

"The Victorians had some really strange ideas about what served as an appropriate Christmas greeting," says Bo Wreden, who recently organized an exhibition of holiday cards for the Book Club of California. "They liked to send out cards with dead birds on them, robins in particular, which related to ancient customs and legends. There's a famous quotation from the Venerable Bede about a sparrow flying through the hall of a castle while the nobility is celebrating Christmas: The moment from when it enters until it flies out is very brief, a metaphor for how quickly our lives pass." Apparently, killing a wren or robin was once a good-luck ritual performed in late December, and during the late 19th century, cards featuring the bodies of these birds were sent to offer good luck in the New Year.