The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 2

As we saw in yesterday’s Christmas literature post, the first commercially available Christmas cards were sent in 1843, the same year as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was published. In that post we also revealed the humorous origins of the robin redbreast on the front of Christmas cards.

Now, presumably quite soon after Christmas cards appeared on the scene, the phrase ‘Christmas card’ was being used in print. But at the moment, the earliest use of the specific phrase ‘Christmas-card’ recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is in an 1883 work by an art critic…

RuskinJohn Ruskin (the man who also coined the phrase ‘pathetic fallacy’) is the art critic in question. The phrase appears in a work by Ruskin called Fors Clavigera, a series of letters which Ruskin addressed to British workers during the 1870s advancing Ruskin’s own ideas of moral and social improvement. (The sentence which contains the phrase runs: ‘There is a Christmas card, with a picture of English “nativity” for you.’)

Ruskin, by the way, was also the one who was supposed to have been terrified and disgusted by his wife’s pubic hair on their wedding-night. It turns out he wasn’t (this story was first told nearly a century later), so let’s get back to the nativity instead, a more … ahem, wholesome topic for the festive season. And it is to the nativity scene that we will turn tomorrow…

Image: John Ruskin self-portrait, 1861, Wikimedia Commons.

8 thoughts on “The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 2”

  1. Ruskin has a large role in the recent film Effie Grey, in which he’s cast as the villain, though it doesn’t rehash the pubic hair legend (as far as I remember). Not an altogether sympathetic character, but an interesting writer.


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