Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card


Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is possible that you are familiar with the story of the first Christmas card. In case not: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends. The result proved controversial because the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance had just been established and the card depicted a young girl eagerly downing a glass of wine.

This year, the Devon hotel Orestone Manor decided to reissue the card. They commissioned the artwork to be redrawn and for a new version to be printed which made clear Orestone's part in the story: Horsley was the manor's original owner and drew the picture there.

Was there a temptation – in our own age of moral hysteria – to remove the under-age drinker? "We discussed it at length," a spokesperson tells me, "and while we certainly would not depict something like that in a new card, we wanted to stay true to the history."

And how has the new version gone down with Orestone's 21st-century clientele? "No one has been offended by it. In fact, one customer pointed out that there would probably be more protests if the child was being breast fed."

Hell's bells

Devastating news. According to one Kyna Hamill, the professor of literature at Boston University, "Jingle Bells" is a drinking song, written by a "jerk", that has nothing to do with Christmas and has long been at the centre of a dispute between the towns of Medford, in Massachusetts, and Savannah, in Georgia.

Apparently, "Jingle Bells" was written in 1850 in a Medford bar called Simpsons Tavern by a chap called James Lord Piepont. Hamill believes that the song is a celebration of the town's annual sleigh race and that it was written as an act of rebellion. "People who love Christmas won't like this answer, but I think there's something which shows that he didn't want to be like his father in this song. He wants to have fun," she says.

Soon after writing the song, Piepont left his wife and children in Massachusetts to head west for the Gold Rush. Then, once his first wife had died, Piepont remarried in Savannah and became a pastor. He sang the song to his congregation on Thanksgiving.

"He didn't even come to his first wife's funeral," Hamill explains. "He's sort of not a nice guy. He's kind of a jerk, actually."

Next thing you know she'll be telling us that Santa Claus doesn't exist.

What cards!

Fresh from the PR disaster that was its "10 Reasons Why Santa Must Live on a Council Estate" card, Clintons is at it again. Aimed at people who like to send a "round robin" letter along with their festive cards, Clintons has come up with a downloadable template to save time and bother.

"Young --- never ceases to amaze us!" the letter reads. "He/she is only --- years old, but has already learnt how to play the violin/piano/bassoon/glockenspiel/tuba up to grade eight! And only last week we found him/her in the conservatory playing with his/her chemistry set. Apparently he/she was trying to synthesise DNA. We're so proud!" and so on.

Having upset anyone who lives on a council estate with its previous attempt at humour, it seems that the company is now targeting the smug middle-classes.

Clintons, the high-street shop with something to upset everyone.

Gift of the Babb

It started at this time last year when Francesca Babb's father, Peter, was due to have a small operation. To cheer him up, Francesca bought a giant wearable Christmas tree and took photos of him wearing the outfit outside various tourist spots in New York.

Since then, the "Babbvent Calendar" has taken on a life of its own. "My parents seem to have built a little fan club, so I thought I'd do something different this year and feature them," Francesca says.

Having settled on a Christmas pudding and cracker for outfits, the Babbs hadn't bargained on Americans not knowing what either of these were. "We had people coming up and asking if my dad was 'a Christmas poo'," Francesca laughs.

See Instagram: #babbventcalendar

Tight Christmas

You might have seen the story last week about Emma Mumford, the "coupon queen" who spent just £350 on Christmas. The story appeared in the Daily Mail (among others), and if Ms Mumford looked familiar that could be because the Mail ran the same story last year when Mumford spent "under £100". What's that they're saying about the rate of inflation?

No rhyme or reason

Another in a regular series of limericks based on recent events:

If you're looking to boost your show's rating,

It can help to get people debating,

So to get the crowds watching,

There's no point in scotching,

The rumour the Queen's abdicating