I buy my Christmas cards at the Boxing Day sales.
I do it almost every year. I've done it this year. Most of my Christmas cards for 2015 were purchased in the final week of 2014. Less than ten days have passed between my posting the last of my 2014 cards and my purchasing the bulk of my 2015 cards.
There, I've said it. And, as they say, confession is good for the soul.
And, as a self-proclaimed "Christmas nerd", I'd like to reflect a bit on Christmas cards (assuming that many of my fellow "Christmas nerds" are also buying next years cards now, as well).
Christmas cards fall into two main categories: religious cards and non-religious cards. But, both religious cards and non-religious cards have a number of sub-categories as well.
First, there are the various types of religious Christmas cards.
- There is the generic religious Christmas card. As a clergy type, I buy, send, and receive a lot of these. Essentially they feature artwork depicting various aspects of the Nativity stories in the Gospels: Mary and Joseph riding a donkey, shepherds gathering by the manger, Magi giving their gifts, etc. The artwork can be either traditional or contemporary, figurative or stylised. The message is something that is spiritual, but not overly theological: something simple such as "Christmas Blessings".
- More upmarket is the "artistic" religious Christmas card. They feature reproductions of classic paintings by well-known artists, with biblical themes such as The Annunciation, The Madonna and Child, The Adoration of the Magi, and The Adoration of the Shepherds, etc. You can usually buy these only at the gift shops connected to major art museums. They're usually pretty expensive ... too expensive for my Christmas card budget.
- Then there are the "pious" Christmas cards, sent by the sort of Christians who are really, really, REALLY religious. They may feature slogans such as "the reason for the season", or "Wise men still seek him", or "Keep Christ in Christmas". They are sent by the more "religious" sort of Christian either to like-minded individuals or to those people they are targeting as possible converts. Personally, I'm nowhere near religious enough to send this sort of card.
- Finally, there is the "cutesy" religious Christmas card. It's like the generic religious Christmas card, except that the shepherds, Magi, angels, Mary, Joseph, etc., are all small children, as if they posed for the card during a kindergarten Nativity play.
Then, we have the various varieties of non-religious Christmas cards.
- First of all there is the generic festive Christmas card. The artwork features a Christmas tree, or a wreath on a door, or a poinsettia. The message inside the card is something like "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", or "Season's Greetings", or (if the sender doesn't mind risking the wrath of Fox News) "Happy Holidays". For most people, this type of card constitutes the majority of the Christmas cards they send.
- An upmarket version of the generic festive card is the Dickensian card. The message and general tone of the card is similar to the generic card, except that the artwork depicts scenes that are definitely British and definitely 19th century, usually with a group of enthusiastic carollers in the foreground. They're a bit more expensive than the generic card, but usually not as expensive as the "artistic" religious card.
- Cards featuring Santa Claus also have their place. They're particularly good for families with small children. They're also a safe choice for people who, if they receive a religious card (of any variety) would complain that "the bloody churches are even trying to take over Christmas", but who would also engage in lengthy bouts of Anglophobic rage if they receive a Dickensian card.
- Animal cards are popular, particularly cat cards. Cat cards are more popular than dog cards, largely because cat people are generally enthusiasts for all types of cats, while many doggie people limit their enthusiasm to one or two breeds.
- Then there's what I call the "Blue Christmas" card. Most of us find we send more and more of these cards to people as we get older. These are cards that recognise that the person receiving the card has had a bad year (because of bereavement, ill health, relationship troubles, problems in the employment area, etc.) and will not be expected to have all that "merry" a Christmas. The sentiment to go for is something like "Have as nice a Christmas as possible under the circumstances, and I hope next year will be better for you than this one was." Some religious cards work well in this regard (although definitely NOT a "pious" card), but each Christmas most of us need to send a few non-religious cards of the "Blue Christmas" variety.
- Then there's the "Australiana" card. This is usually a variety of the Santa card, and features the aforementioned Mr. Kringle in a t-shirt, shorts, and thongs* relaxing on a beach, or possibly even surfing. The (highly profound) message here is "Here in Australia, we have Christmas in summer."** Sometimes, you'll find one with St. Nick in his full regimentals on a sleigh being pulled by a team of kangaroos, rather than reindeer. If you wish to send this sort of card, consider the following guidelines: (a) Only send them to friends and relatives who live overseas. Sending this card to an Australian (other than one with a strong appreciation for kitsch) will lead to reports that you've taken leave of your senses. (b) Don't send them every year. Most people get easily bored with this sort of card. (c) Only send them to people with a sense of humour. These cards can be pretty funny (usually unintentionally so).
And then, occupying a space between the "religious" and "non-religious" cards (almost as a quasi-Anglican via media) are the "ethical" Christmas cards. Their message is neither overtly religious nor relentlessly festive. These cards will concentrate on such sentiments from the biblical Christmas stories as "Peace on Earth". The message of the card, in addition to the usual greetings of the season, will include an encouragement to all people of good will to promote peace on earth. (Many cards sold by charities - particularly overseas aid agencies - are also "ethical" cards.) If you're able to organise a good supply of "ethical" cards, these will be able to satisfy almost everyone on your Christmas card list, even those needing a "blue Christmas" card (although you may still want a few Santa cards for families caring either for small children or for extreme right-wingers).
One note of caution re the "ethical" cards: make sure they're printed on recycled paper ... and that the back of the card says so. Nothing says "ethically confused" quite as effectively as an "ethical" Christmas card printed on non-recycled paper.
The sales are still on. Next year's Christmas cards are out there at attractive prices, waiting for you to buy them. Let your inner "Christmas nerd" emerge.
* In case you're wondering, by the word "thongs", I'm using it in the Australian sense of uncomfortable summer footwear with a tendency to fall apart at the worst possible times (called "flip-flops" in the US), rather than in any other sense.
** This does not take into account, of course, the fact that people in New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and numerous other countries can make the same claim.
And, if you'd like some of my reflections on Advent and Christmas sitting on your bookshelf as well as on your computer, you may want to buy my book Christmas Lost and Christmas Regained from Amazon.