Christmas Cards of the early 20th century from the Collection of the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve

The word “postcard” originates from “open letters” – messages which were sent without envelopes. The first postcard with the printed stamp was issued in Vienna, Austria, in 1869, i.e. it was 140 years ago. Soon afterwards the postcard became widespread among different social groups all over the world as a cheaper way of mail service in comparison with the letter in the envelope. The first postcard appeared in Russia in 1872. The Universal Postal Union established in 1874 approved the common size of postcards (9 cm high and 14 cm long) which quickened their sorting and delivery. The Post Office Department had a right to issue postcards in the Russian Empire till 1894. Then it was given to private publishers. Illustrated postcards were printed in Russia in the 1890s. Starting from 1904, people began to write the text of the message not on the illustrated side of the postcard, but on the back divided into two parts: an address was placed on the right and a letter – on the left.

The museum collection of illustrated postcards of the early 20th century includes greeting cards, reproduction and picture postcards. Several postcards with the views of the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery and the town of Kirillov were displayed in the permanent exposition of the history department. On publishing the album “The District Town of Kirillov and its Outskirts on the Postcards of the early 20th century” in the “Northern Pilgrim” Publishing House (Moscow) in 2002, I.A. Smirnov introduced 64 picture postcards from the museum collection for scientific use. Greeting cards are undoubtedly of interest. A part of Christmas, New Year’s and Easter cards were presented at temporary exhibitions prepared for children’s museum holidays on the occasion of Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter. The museum collection of postcards was significantly replenished over the last years. V.V. Vedenin, B.M. Pidemsky, A.N. Probichev handed over old postcards from their own collections to the museum in 2006-2007.

Most of the greeting cards of the early 20th century are Christmas and Easter messages and it gives a chance to prepare special exhibitions about the main Orthodox holidays. The display “Christmas cards of the early 20th century from the collection of the Kirillo-Belozersky museum-reserve” presented one of the most beautiful kinds of greeting cards which were an integral part of culture and life at the beginning of the 20th century. Many residents of Kirillov sent and received postcards with congratulations on the name-day, Easter, Christmas and New Year’s greetings. A set of postcards addressed to the residents of Kirillov and the Kirillov district were exhibited along with the cards the back side of which wasn’t used for letters.

It is unknown who painted pictures on the Christmas cards. Publishers are also seldom named. But even the small museum collection allows us to draw a conclusion that postcards issued in Western Europe (Germany, Austria, France) were in-demand in Russia. They were made especially for Russia and contained congratulations in Russian which were sometimes typed in manually using a usual stamp. Winter landscapes in different frames, angels and bells were the most popular depictions. On some postcards, visitors could see branches of evergreen plants growing in Western Europe – holly (with sinuate-dentate leaves and red fruit) and mistletoe (with narrow conjugate leaves and white berries). These traditional Christmas plants are still used to decorate rooms and festive table.

The Christmas tree was also often depicted on the postcards. Decoration of its branches with candles reminded about Jesus Christ – the spring of life, light and joy. Christmas tree decorations and presents were painted on many greeting cards as indispensable attributes of the winter holiday. There was Father Frost on one of them. The composition of Christmas cards sometimes included the date of the holiday – December 25 and New Year’s cards - the figure “1”. Military men could be often seen on the Christmas cards issued during the First World War.

The exhibition gave visitors an opportunity to familiarize themselves not only with the colourful side of the postcards, but also with texts of the “open letters”. Respectful addresses, a touching list of numerous relatives’ names, postal addresses, names of senders and recipients, stamps issued a hundred years ago – all this gave a chance to get to the atmosphere of the past century.

Collecting postcards was very popular in the early 20th century. Received cards were kept as a souvenir in many families. They had special albums for it. The albums which had belonged to the families from Kirilov – the Arkhipovs, the Yanusovs and others - were also displayed at the exhibition.

Russia started to celebrate Orthodox Christmas at the state level again over the last decade of the 20th century. Motives of old postcards issued 100 years ago are often used to make modern Christmas cards.

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