In rural America, people exchanged small, practical, often homemade gifts, and commonly made sure to give to neighbors who were less fortunate. When rural American moved to cities in droves in the late 1800s, they took their traditions with them as much as they could. Though they could no longer make gifts from their own farms, they loved sending Christmas cards, many featuring scenes of rural America, Giblin writes.
"Christmas postcards may have been American’s first social media, by allowing all a glimpse into the lives of the senders," Giblin writes. "The large volume of greeting and postcard mailings sent to and from rural America helped subsidize the Rural Free Delivery system, at that time a controversial nationwide free rural postal delivery system proposed by the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the nation’s oldest agricultural organization."
Greeting card images of an "old fashioned Christmas" comforted city dwellers with rural roots, and still resonate for Americans today. But it's important that, in our nostalgia for the old days, we remember that rural America is a diverse, welcoming place. "Many of the symbols of Christmas as we know it today — gift giving, Christmas trees, the joy of children, sharing with friends, neighbors and families, and community celebrations — were brought to America and fostered by immigrant farmers and rural settlers," Giblin writes. "While many describe cities and urban areas as the melting pots of America, holiday celebrations in rural and farm communities brought people together, along with diverse traditions, religious beliefs, cultures and languages from many different countries. In churches and one-room schools in rural communities, differences were ignored or blended in favor of honoring the spirit of the season."
Christmas is a time when rural and urban Americans can remember and celebrate their common roots, Giblin writes: "This holds true for everything from holiday cards depicting rural images to visits to Christmas tree farms or farms offering hay rides and other opportunities to experience old holiday traditions."