OTTAWA - Those thousands of holiday greeting cards from MPs pouring out of the national capital this month are part of a rich tradition.
Christmas, you say?
The very first Christmas card was conceived by British civil servant Sir Henry Cole in 1843 to exploit and support England's new universal penny post, introduced by a friend in 1840.
The card — a drawing by illustrator John Callcott Horsley that depicted a festive family scene, including a young girl being helped to drink a glass of wine — caused a bit of a stir in Victorian England. But the concept proved immediately popular.
By the 1860s, commercial cards were being sent in Canada and it was in 1862 that U.S. president Abraham Lincoln introduced a Christmas card standard that's still around today.
Lincoln commissioned cartoonist Thomas Nast to create a propaganda cover for Harper's Weekly to bolster flagging Civil War spirits in the North. Nast created the modern image of Santa Claus that endures to this day — though it is less often mentioned that he also cemented seasonal images as a political tool.
Christmas cards from William Lyon MacKenzie King, Canada's longest serving prime minister, still exist from as early as the 1930s, and Canadian newspapers have been analysing the seasonal political mailings since the '50s.
There are no wine-imbibing youngsters — and not even a rotund Santa — adorning the greeting cards of members of Parliament in 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper this year maintained his traditional family photo. He and wife Laureen book-end kids Rachel and Ben on a gold couch at 24 Sussex Drive, the words "Happy Holidays/Joyeuses Fetes" superimposed above them and a seasonal bouquet, including pine cones, on the coffee table in front.
Inside the card, the Harpers wish recipients "Merry Christmas," "Happy Chanukah" and "Season's Greetings," all in both official languages.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's card features a sunlit photo of the Peace Tower behind a foreground of snow-laden evergreens, with a wintry photo of Mulcair and his wife Catherine inside above an anodyne "Season's Greetings."
Green party Leader Elizabeth May also uses a Peace Tower photo on her card, although she livens things up inside with a photo of her three dogs and an unapologetic "Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy New Year!" greeting.
Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, is sending cards that feature a portrait-style photo of him and wife Arlene posed on the front. Inside, they wish "your family and loved ones a happy, healthy and joyous holiday season."
Gov. Gen. David Johnston is a little more adventurous.
The card from Rideau Hall shows a laughing Johnston and his grinning wife Sharon riding a dog sled in full flight, with smaller photos inside illustrating the words "connect," "honour" and "inspire."
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has reprised his annual military group photo, this time from the deck of HMCS Vancouver in Italy.
And cabinet ministers Lisa Raitt and Peter Van Loan are sending out cards with fall-themed family photos.
Van Loan includes a colourful totem of his role as Conservative party House leader — a candid photo of him sharing a collegial laugh with the prime minister at their adjacent House of Commons seats.