Yuletide Greetings

Article excerpt


"CHRISTMAS TODAY embraces a rich and complex aggregation of sometimes incongruent beliefs, customs, and activities of multiple and varied origins," writes Kenneth L. Ames, curator of the exhibition, "American Christmas Cards, 1900-1960," and author of a book that goes by the same name.


"Partly religious and partly secular, the modern Christmas engages mind and memory as it celebrates and rewards the senses. The power of Christmas derives in part from the strength and appeal of its repeated rituals and the presumed antiquity of its traditions and in part from its structural flexibility and ability to adapt to changing cultural conditions. Whatever it is that Christmas embodies--and opinions vary--it is clear that the holiday meets deep-seated cultural and psychic needs."

Christmas cards, meanwhile, constitute a category of American material culture that is rich in documentary potential, yet nearly has been invisible in scholarly literature. "I was intrigued to learn that this omnipresent dimension of American life was actually unchartered terrain, largely absent not only from museum collections but also from the published annals of material culture or the history of graphic design, where one might assume it could be found," indicates Susan Weber, director of the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, in the Foreword.

Christmas cards express more than simple sentiment, for, since their earliest days, they have included prominent images precisely because they suggest richer and deeper meanings than efficiently can be conveyed by words. …