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Christmas card design advice

From 1914...



Having just shipped our Christmas collection for 2020, it’s now time to set to work on next years offerings. I wanted to share some design advice from a book that went out of print in 1914. A gentleman offering some familiar grumbles about Christmas card design. Thankfully in 2020 I think you‘ll agree we have moved on even though the traditional style remains.

By a stroke of good luck we found a little shop where a large overstock of Christmas cards was selling at two for five. The original 5's and 10's were still penciled on them, and while we were debating whether to rub them off a thought occurred to us. When will artists and printers design us some Christmas cards that will be honest and appropriate to the time we live in? Never was the Day of Peace and Good Will so full of meaning as this year; and never did the little cards, charming as they were, seem so formal, so merely pretty, so devoid of imagination, so inadequate to the festival.



This is an age of strange and stirring beauty, of extraordinary romance and adventure, of new joys and pains. And yet our Christmas artists have nothing more to offer us than the old formalism of Yuletide convention. After a considerable amount of searching in the bazaars we have found not one Christmas card that showed even a glimmering of the true romance, which is to see the beauty or wonder or peril that lies around us. Most of the cards hark back to the stage-coach up to its hubs in snow, or the blue bird, with which Maeterlinck penalized us (what has a blue bird got to do with Christmas?), or the open fireplace and jug of mulled claret. Now these things are merry enough in their way, or they were once upon a time; but we plead for an honest romanticism in Christmas cards that will express something of the entrancing color and circumstance that surround us to-day. Is not a commuter's train, stalled in a drift, far more lively to our hearts than the mythical stage-coach? Or an inter-urban trolley winging its way through the dusk like a casket of golden light? Or even a country flivver, loaded down with parcels and holly and the Yuletide keg of root beer? Root beer may be but meager flaggonage compared to mulled claret, but at any rate 'tis honest, 'tis actual, 'tis tangible and potable. And where, among all the Christmas cards, is the airplane, that most marvelous and heart-seizing of all our triumphs? Where is the stately apartment house, looming like Gibraltar against a sunset sky?


Must we, even at Christmas time, fool ourselves with a picturesqueness that is gone, seeing nothing of what is around us?

It is said that man's material achievements have outrun his imagination; that poets and painters are too puny to grapple with the world as it is. Certainly a visitor from another sphere, looking on our fantastic and exciting civilization, would find little reflection of it in the Christmas card. He would find us clinging desperately to what we have been taught to believe was picturesque and jolly, and afraid to assert that the things of to-day are comely too. Even on the basis of discomfort (an acknowledged criterion of picturesqueness) surely a trolley car jammed with parcel-laden passengers is just as satisfying a spectacle as any stage coach? Surely the steam radiator, if not so lovely as a flame-gilded hearth, is more real to most of us? And instead of the customary picture of shivering subjects of George III held up by a highwayman on Hampstead Heath, why not a deftly delineated sketch of victims in a steam-heated lobby submitting to the plunder of the hat-check bandit? Come, let us be honest! The romance of to-day is as good as any!

Many must have felt this same uneasiness in trying to find Christmas cards that would really say something of what is in their hearts. The sentiment behind the card is as lovely and as true as ever, but the cards themselves are outmoded bottles for the new wine. It seems a cruel thing to say, but we are impatient with the mottoes and pictures we see in the shops because they are a conventional echo of a beauty that is past. What could be more absurd than to send to a friend in a city apartment a rhyme such as this:


As round the Christmas fire you sit

And hear the bells with frosty chime,

Think, friendship that long love has knit

Grows sweeter still at Christmas time!


If that is sent to the janitor or the elevator boy we have no cavil, for these gentlemen do actually see a fire and hear bells ring; but the apartment tenant hears naught but the hissing of the steam in the radiator, and counts himself lucky to hear that. Why not be honest and say to him:


I hope the janitor has shipped

You steam, to keep the cold away;

And if the hallboys have been tipped,

Then joy be thine on Christmas Day!


We had not meant to introduce this jocular note into our meditation, for we are honestly aggrieved that so many of the Christmas cards hark back to an old tradition that is gone, and never attempt to express any of the romance of to-day. You may protest that Christmas is the oldest thing in the world, which is true; yet it is also new every year, and never newer than now.

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