Monday, June 9, 2008

*87. FELICIDADES! : The Charm of Vintage Holiday Calling Cards

BEST WISHES, KABALEN! An assortment of Christmas calling cards from Pampanga. Personal collection.

Many aspects of our Christmas traditions have their roots in colonial customs from a number of countries and cultures. Misa de gallos, noche buenas, belens and parols are but a few legacies of Spain. America introduced us to Santa Claus, Christmas trees and Christmas cards, which, in turn, evolved from the Victorian practice of leaving calling cards.

In 19th century England, these cards were essential part of social etiquette ranging from introductions, visits, invitations and gift-giving. When a caller comes visiting, he would leave a card (also known as “carte de visite”) on silver trays in the entry hall with the more socially prominent names displayed on top. Cards were often carried in attractive cases of ivory, leather, filigreed silver and papier mache. The use of calling cards became very fashionable in Europe and early illustrated samples were often collected and pasted in scrapbooks.

Victorian era cards were about 9 x 6 cms.; later examples approximated the size of modern day business cards. The cards bore only a person’s title and name, but by the end of the century, the address was added to the card. Soon, the all-occasion calling card was designed to fit a specific ceremonial event or season. For instance, mourning cards were edged in black. Formal calls were also made after wedding rites, childbirth or as acknowledgment of hospitality. During the holidays, Christmas greetings were also printed on the card.

The calling card fad apparently reached our islands and our province, what with our penchant for forming elite social circles and endless giving of regalos and aguinaldos. A few examples of vintage Christmas calling cards collected from Pampanga show marked Victorian influences despite their relative simplicity. The cards were decorated with color, embossing and die-cutting as printing techniques improved in the 1850s.

For instance, the calling card of Ms. Eduviges Beltran of Lubao, Pampanga, sent out on Christmas 1920, shows delicate pink and green color tinting on tiny violet flowers. Florenciana Lacsamana of San Luis opted for a very local motif, embossing her Christmas 1918 calling card with a figure of a woman in baro’t saya against a truly Filipino backdrop of a rising sun and palm trees. Messr. N. Diaz Carreon, on the other hand, chose a lucky horsehoe design fringed with anahaw leaves for his circa 19-17-1918 card. Warm Christmas wishes were sent out using straightforward Spanish greetings (“Felicidades!”) to more lyrical expressions in contemporary English.

The popularity of Christmas calling cards waned with the advent of the more festive, more visual Christmas postcards and greeting cards in the 1920s-30s, which allowed every inconceivable subject to appear in explosions of color: from Angels to Santas, rural scenes, animals to far-fetched imageries as snowmen, reindeer and fur-clad people. No matter, calling cards of our holiday past provide us with a rare, interesting glimpse of social protocol in our history, when Kapampangan hospitality and proper observance of etiquette were the order of the day—practices that are sadly being taken for granted in our present-day society.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

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