“The Christmas card was a culturally specific artifact, a very distinctive, even idiosyncratic way to express a fundamental and enduring human gesture.”

Christmas cards express more than simple sentiment, for since their earliest days the cards have included prominent images precisely because they suggest richer and deeper meanings than can be efficiently conveyed by words. In recent years the genre has been in decline, as fewer people send cards, but the chief function—making contact with others—remains as critical as ever, although superseded by new methods of connection. It is now evident that the Christmas card was a culturally specific artifact, a very distinctive, even idiosyncratic way to express a fundamental and enduring human gesture within the commercial, materialistic, and rapidly changing society that was the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.

The exhibition and accompanying book argue the central premise that examining the images on Christmas cards used in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the end of the 1950s enriches our understanding of not only the American Christmas but also significant aspects of American culture. These cards constitute a category of American material culture that is rich in documentary potential yet has been nearly invisible in the scholarly literature.


A Focus Project curated by Bard Graduate Center Professor Emeritus Kenneth L. Ames. Focus Projects are small-scale academically rigorous exhibitions and publications that are developed and executed by Bard Graduate Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows in collaboration with students in our MA and PhD programs.


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