The custom of writing Christmas cards began in Norway in the 1870’s, but at that time they were forwarded in person. The Norwegian postal service believes that the first card was sent in the mail in 1883. Two years later the custom was so widespread that they had to hire more staff at the post offices to handle the increased number of cards. In other parts of Europe, customs regarding the use of Christmas cards were similar.
In 1900 “everybody” wrote Christmas cards. The pictures on the cards could be reproductions of paintings of the great artists; they could depict nisser (more about that later); pigs (as pork was the most important part of the main Christmas meals); sheaves of oats and small birds; as well as romantic scenes from everyday life. In Norway one would not often see religious motives.
A nisse is a fantasy figure, a short man, with a white beard, who wears a red cap. In Norway we also use the term nisse for Santa Claus. (If we say that someone is a nisse, we mean that this is not a smart person.) Some people would say the nisse looks like the British garden gnome. The Swedish word for a nisse is tomte. The nisse or tomte is a Nordic figure, he appears around winter solstice, that is Christmas time.
A custom that has survived until today is that people make porridge with a spoonful of butter on top and place the bowl out in the snow at Christmas for the nisse to eat (because the nisse will do mischief if he is not fed).
Denmark invented julemerker, a stamp that could be affixed to the card, which was bought to support a charity. This custom spread to all the Nordic countries. One kind of julemerke was sold as late as 2018 in Norway and it is still in use in Denmark.