Larry Warnock, owner of A Cowboy Rose, examines some of his new stock of Christmas cards.

Christmas is coming, and Santa's keeping tabs with that naughty and nice list of his.

Have you got those Christmas cards mailed out yet?

For many, Christmas cards mean the yearly bother of mailing out holiday greetings to relatives, co-workers and friends, but for others, Christmas just wouldn't be the same without them.

How did this holiday tradition come about?

Numerous sources attribute the invention of the modern Christmas card to an Englishman named John Horsley, who in 1843 created the card to depict the condition of the needy in London and to raise awareness about their plight.

At the time, his card -- which depicted a holiday toast -- came under some controversy from teetotalers of the time. But apparently, enough people liked his idea well enough for it to catch on.

The cards featured the greeting: "A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You."

In the U.S., the first Christmas cards did not appear until sometime during the 1860s, when a German immigrant named Louis Prang set up shop in Boston and began printing greeting cards for both Christmas and New Year's Day.

Americans liked what they saw, and the cards sold out each season, leaving Prang to spend the following part of the year designing new cards for the upcoming holidays.

Later, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln looked for a way to boost troop morale over the holidays.

Lincoln commissioned cartoonist Thomas Nast to design a Christmas card for members of the Union military and militias, and this card was the first ever to feature an image of Santa Claus.

The image was also the first to feature "Father Christmas" dressed in his now-standard red suit and leather belt.

Today, retailers feature Christmas cards to suit the tastes of just about everyone -- from the humorous to the romantic, or to the traditionalist and everyone in between.

Likewise, in today's electronic society, "e-cards," often featuring bright animation and audio, are quickly catching on as an alternative to the simple Christmas card.

E-cards are quick to fill out, generally free, and can be a hassle-free means of sending out holiday greetings.

But for many, the electronic versions just don't hold a candle to the real deal.

At A Cowboy Rose, owner Larry Warnock is looking to experience his first holiday season selling Christmas cards.

"This is the first year we've had our Christmas cards out, and we've only actually had them out since Thanksgiving," said Warnock.

But, Warnock guesses, if the customers are anything like him, he should see brisk sales this year.

"I send them out personally to keep up with old friends -- especially friends that live in far away places and who I don't' see that often," Warnock said. "It's kind of the one time a year that you get to catch up with everybody."

Local music teacher Dana Waters agrees.

"I think Christmas cards are wonderful. Sending them out early is always best," she said. "I've already got my list made out with addresses and they'll be ready to go soon."

When cost is an issue and personalization is a goal, handmade cards are a good option.

"I think handmade cards are beautiful, and I really enjoy getting them," Waters said. "Also, Christmas cards with the family photo are very important to me. I have friends all over the country who I keep in touch with, but rarely do I get to see their families. The photo cards allows me to see their children and how much they've grown."

Waters makes her 13-year-old son help with the whole process, from making out the list, to choosing the cards, to addressing them.

One "handmade" option that sparks ambivalence among the recipients is the Christmas "form" letter, which the sender uses to update everyone on his or her family's activities and progress from the previous year. While some recipients find such "copied" letters interesting, others just view them as annoying.

Believe it or not, forms are available online to help you if you choose this route. But if posted comments are any indication, you should avoid anything that smacks of bragging!

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