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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Easter cards - what's that about?
WHO, WHAT, WHY?
The Magazine answers...

Easter eggs adorned in traditional German style
It's not Easter without eggs
Easter traditions include chocolate eggs, bunnies and hot cross buns, but when did sending cards become one?

With Easter just over a week away, most people's attentions will be turning to preparations for the holiday.

Going to church, giving chocolate eggs - Easter traditions are many and much-loved.

But when did sending cards become one? This year card shops have dedicated sections for bunny and egg bedecked cards - but why?

According to the Greeting Card Association (GCA) the British are mad for cards, on birthdays, Christmas, Valentine's Day - name the occasion, there'll be a card sent.

The greeting card industry in the UK is worth more than 1.2bn a year, according to Mintel. That is more than tea and coffee put together, says the GCA.

In the post

The British buy more cards than in any other country, an average of 55 a year, making it the most successful greeting card industry in the world per head of population, according to GCA statistics.

WHO, WHAT, WHY?
Question Mark - from original architect's doodle design for BBC TV Centre
A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

There are more than 800 publishers in the UK producing 2.6 billion greeting cards a year. The industry even has its own version of the Oscars, called the Henries - named after Sir Henry Cole, who produced the first commercial Christmas cards in 1846.

The popularity of sending cards in the UK may go some way to explaining the racks of Easter cards in most shops. It is a growth area in the market, says the GCA. An estimated 16m are sent a year.

"All our members say Easter card sales are up, which is probably why we are seeing more of them in shops than before," says a spokeswoman.

According to Clinton Cards - the UK's largest specialist greeting card retailer - Easter cards make up 12% of the spring season market. Not bad considering it is up against Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.

A Clinton spokesperson says religious cards are its best-sellers, after general wishes such as Thinking of You.

Market gap

There is a long tradition of sending Easter cards in certain Catholic countries such as Poland, but less so in the UK.

"It is something that has been done for a long time in certain Catholic countries but there is no religious imperative to do it, it is just a gesture of good will," says a spokesman for the Catholic Herald.

So is it a tradition non-Catholics in the UK are starting to follow and publishers are simply responding to demand? Or are they foisting unwanted cards onto the public to make more money? It is a criticism often aimed at the industry and with cards on sale to send to cats and dogs, it's probably justified.

But the GCA says people would send cards at Easter, even if specific ones weren't on sale.

"People think the industry invents occasions to get people to send cards for superfluous reasons, but it's not like that," says the GCA spokeswoman.

"The British have always loved sending cards and if a publisher hasn't stepped in to plug a gap in the market, they will buy blank cards and write their own message."


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I always send Easter cards, but only to those friends who believe in the Truth of Easter, otherwise it is a waste of effort and money. And the cards are by their nature always on the religious theme. I was once told that during an overheard conversation between two ladies in a card shop, they were heard to say: "Look at this, they are even bringing religion into Easter now".
Ray, Birmingham

It seems to me that the card industry have a lot of work making cards in the first half of the year, Christmas, Valentines, Mothers Day, Easter etc, but they must be quiet in the second half. What occasions could we see next. Happy Summer Solstice? Happy August Bank Holiday?
Graham Gilmour, Livingston

It's all a con to make us think we should send cards. I stick to Christmas, Birthdays, St Valentines Day and Mothering Sunday. I instruct my sons not to do anything for Fathers' Day as this is just another invention of the card companies. If you must send a card on these invented days, make it yourself - it's much more personal.
James Rigby, Wickford, Essex, UK

The most different card I've received was a Valentine's card which contained a circular letter. The sender - an atheist - tells me she sends them instead of Christmas cards.
Alexander Lewis Jones, Nottingham, UK

Easter is the most important point in the Christian year; "We are an Easter People" ;so it seems appropriate to send a card. A Buddhist friend sends me an Easter card every year. His reasoning is thus: " I have read about Christianity and I know that you think that Jesus rising is the most important fact, so I send you a card for your religion's most important day!" He continues "I know that you respect my belief so I must respect yours."
Michael, Carlisle, UK

I find it hard to believe that the UK outstrips the USA for card giving per person. We are still amazed, especially around Valentine's day, over here when you will find cards for parents, co-workers and more worryingly daughters and sons!! we should simply call them all Hallmark (or Clinton) days.
Keith Beattie, West Seneca, NY (formerly Huddersfield)

The oddest card I ever saw was a mothers day card which read "My Girlfriend, Happy Mothers Day". Which shows us just how liberal things are getting!
Nick, Leeds

This is less to do with any religeous significance and more to do with slick commercial marketing. Ask any child under 10 what Easter means to them and it will be Easter chicks/rabbits and eggs. God does not get a look in.
John Welsh, London UK

OOOH don't get me started on cards! I gave up sending Christmas cards years ago. Instead I donate a tenner to Friends of the Earth. I also send an email asking everyone I know NOT to send me a card. I can't believe that people give Christmas cards out in the office to people they see every day! The industry is worth so much money.. and for what?!Something that sits on your mantlepiece for a week then goes into a drawer never to be seen again! I also think it must be compulsory for all cards to be charity cards. The majority of my bile is saved for Valentines cards, I mean PURLEASE! I want to vomit! Non-naff trendy art cards are obviously more pleasing on the eye than Clinton-Card-Hell but I reserve to right to refuse ANY card from ANYONE on the basis that if in some small way I can help the environment and stick two fingers up to Big Business then I'll do it!
Suzanne Tiago, London

I was sent a St. George's Day card the other day. Now that is a first! When did that happen? April 23rd...how about a Shakespeare's Birthday card too. Are there Guy Fawkes day cards yet? Much safer than fireworks. Perhaps the Post Office has shares in Hallmark or the other way round. All those stamps have to go on something.
Ann Salwey, New York City US (formerly Norwich)

I think a big contributory factor to the increase in greetings card sales must surely be the increase in the number of people moving away from the area they grew up in. When you live away from friends and family it is nice to have occasions when you can send a card with some good wishes. During most of the year people are so busy working and going about their lives, that it can often take an occasion to remind you to get in touch with loved ones!
Dee, Dublin, Ireland

Hands up anyone would ever consider buying a blank card and writing their own message because they couldn't find an easter card in the shops. Anyone? No, thought not!
Martin White, Guisborough, England

In the local supermarket I have even spotted Easter crackers (as in Christmas crackers - not the edible ones!). Do we now have to buy an easter tree to put them on?
Kate, Leicester

This kind of thing makes me mad. I hate those "Happy Secular Easter to my Nanna and her boyfriend" things. If you wouldn't want your Easter card to have an empty cross on it, then you're probably sending the card for the wrong reasons. Bah humbug.
Lucy Jones, Manchester

A branch of a well-known card retailer I passed this morning had a poster in the window exhorting me to remember "Secretary's Day". The industry inventing occasions to get people to send cards? Nah... (OK, a quick search of the web suggests it was invented in 1952, but still...)
Chris R., Cambridge, UK

My granny sent Easter cards every year. I never understood this as she was not religious and was actually a faithful communist. No-one else has ever sent me one.
Carol Jappy, Grangemouth, Scotland

I always send Easter cards, but only to those friends who believe in the Truth of Easter, otherwise it is a waste of effort and money. And the cards are by their nature always on the religious theme. I was once told that during an overheard conversation between two ladies in a card shop, they were heard to say when looking at Easter cards,'Look at this, they are even bringing religion into Easter now'! I think that says it all.
ray, birmingham

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