UNDATED - It's a multi-million-dollar-a-year business, and one of the more time-consuming efforts of the holiday season - sending and receiving Christmas cards.

The Hallmark card people estimate that each year, we buy and make billions of Christmas cards - finding just the right saying with the nicest picture and the proper envelope.

Then, we fill the cards with personalized greetings and reviews of the year's happenings, before sending them off in the mail, hoping they get to their destinations on time.

The practice is more than 150 years old now, at least in the commercial sense.

While homemade cards had been en vogue for a few years, the first commercial card was designed by British artist J.C. Horsely for Sir Henry Cole in 1843.

One-thousand copies of the original were made, depicting good deeds such as clothing the needy and feeding the hungry.

From there, printed cards became popular throughout England and then Germany.

It wasn't until the late 19th century that holiday cards caught on in America.

Gradually, the custom has grown into what it is today - the busiest card-buying time of the year, with an estimated 2 billion Christmas cards exchanged each year in the United States alone.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)