It was only October and an unusually hot and sunny day, but Rovonne Staten’s front steps in Grapevine, Texas were full of Christmas props. For the photo shoot with her family’s Christmas card there were poinsettias and wreaths, tinsel and tartan, an oversized ornament with the letter “S”, a plate of cookies for Santa Claus – and a sign reminding him to stay outside.
“Santa Claus can’t come into the house because of Covid,” joked Ms. Staten, 41, a project engineer, adding, “I want people to have a ray of hope by looking at our picture and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s cute ; that’s nice – you know, it looks like things are fine. ‘”
At the end of a year marked by distance and separation, Ms. Staten will send out Christmas cards for the first time. And she is not alone. Paperless Post, an online card and invitation company, found in a recent survey that 60 percent of users plan to send out Christmas cards this year (compared to 38 percent of those who sent them last year). Crafts website Etsy saw searches for Christmas cards increase 23 percent over the last three months. Of the 2,000 Americans surveyed by Minted.com, a home decor and stationery company, in September, nearly three-quarters agreed that Christmas cards have more sentimental value this year than in previous years.
Understand the reality of the situation.
Lots of holiday cards after paired sun-drenched holiday collages or magazine-worthy pictures of grinning children with pleasant messages about joy. But after a year marked more by worry and stress than happiness and the pandemic and its economic consequences continue to increase, some card broadcasters, stationery companies and portrait photographers are going a different way: with the sweet feelings, with masks and other depictions of the realities of these Era.
“We should send out Christmas cards to connect with people,” said Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert. “And I believe that we can refer to the pandemic in this medium because everyone is affected in some way and it is important to be open about it.”
For Mrs. Staten, that meant buying red masks (she glued white, flaky Santa Claus disguises to her husband’s) and hiring a local photographer to capture her family of five from 10 feet away. Even this style of portraiture is a cultural revelation of the pandemic: photographer Rachna Agrawal first photographed the Statens for the Front Steps Project, for which photographers around the world took socially distant pictures of families to raise funds for local nonprofits and small ones Companies.
Shrutti Garg, a Brooklyn-based photographer who also participated in the Front Steps Project this spring, said she has several clients planning to use these photos, as casual as they may be, for Christmas cards.
“You can imagine that they are not the best photos,” Ms. Garg said. “But there are many families who will still use them because it is like this: this year we were all at home in our pajamas.”
Pay attention to your tone.
A Front Steps customer Mai Nguyen-Huu hired Ms. Garg to shoot another set of family portraits outdoors for Christmas cards. She and her husband have two daughters, around 4 months old and almost 2.
“I think everyone has to laugh,” said Ms. Nguyen-Huu, 39, who works in the fashion industry and lives in Brooklyn. “But we’ll likely be careful who we send it to – we probably won’t send it to people who have been affected in a way that would offend them.”
To work around this problem, Ms. Nguyen-Huu will make several different cards by shuffling and merging photos and copying them. In some pictures, Ms. Nyugen-Huu and her husband are wearing masks. Some show an ice bucket filled with champagne and purell; others a gift basket full of Clorox towels and toilet paper. She plays with a few messages, including “Celebrate (at home) with the best bottles of alcohol” and a more sincere one wishing recipients “a happy and safe holiday season”. She is also considering a “super safe version” with a traditional portrait and greeting.
Mariam Naficy, founder and general manager of Minted, said the issue of tone added weight to the independent artists whose card designs are sold on the site.
“With so many people dying, we knew there was a line we couldn’t cross,” she said. “It’s a very subtle thing. We didn’t mean to be inappropriate because we don’t want people to take it lightly. “
Lizzie Post, an etiquette writer and co-president of the Emily Post Institute, believes this is also a question senders should be concerned about.
“I think if you get the pandemic under control, you run the risk of insulting those who have families and loved ones who have passed away,” Ms. Post said. “But if you wear masks or show social distancing as sincere support for those acts, I’m 100 percent behind you, and I think etiquette would be behind you too.”
That will be Ms. Staten’s approach. Although she has not yet ordered the cards from Costco, she wrote the following greeting: “We have been wearing our masks diligently and have remained socially distant this year, but we miss you so much! Hope you enjoy this card and we can exchange big hugs soon! “
Watch new messages.
Ms. Naficy has seen card designs and news with external events rise and fall. For example, the word “peace” became popular after the 2016 presidential election. Now, she said, other trends are emerging.
“On the more serious side, ‘hope’ is a very popular word, as is ‘gratitude’,” said Ms. Naficy. “On the fun side, there are a lot of people who are clearly interested in the humorous attitude: our family has been through a lot, I’m sure yours have too.”
Even apparently timeless messages (e.g. “Best wishes for the new year”) clearly have a 2020 mood (e.g. when they are combined with an illustration of “CTRL + N”, a key combination by the influential artist Gwen Bedat to open a new browser window or document).
Holiday messages on cards available on Etsy range from “Adios 2020” to hand washing instructions. One by the designer Tina Seamonster shows a dumpster fire with the label “2020” and two words above it: “We Survived”.
“We’re constantly seeing new inventory reflecting the zeitgeist, and this year’s Christmas cards are no exception,” said Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s trend expert.
All Kristen Hope’s Christmas card needed was a message from a friend on Twitter showing the giant disposable face mask on the facade of the Science Museum of Virginia. The museum is located approximately 100 miles south of Mrs. Hope’s home in Arlington, Va.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that would be a great Christmas card, especially since we haven’t really done much this year regarding family vacations,” said Ms. Hope, 48, a 14-year-old mom who is staying at home and 12 year old twins. “We were bored on a Saturday, so we grabbed our selfie stick, jumped in the car, took a picture, got back in the car and drove home.”
Ms. Hope, a former research librarian who carefully keeps her address list up to date, ordered cards from Minted (“Happy Holidays to You from Our Quarantine Team”) and plans to send them on Thanksgiving. Your only regret? Leave the back blank.
“I should have put a little asterisk that said, ‘We didn’t go in. We used a selfie stick. We had our masks with us, ”she said.
Like Ms. Hope, Elise Miller has always been a fan of the Christmas card. She traditionally tapped a friend of a photographer to take bright, elegantly composed family portraits.
In contrast, this year’s card she bought through Minted is a screenshot.
“We had zoomed so much with our family,” said Ms. Miller, 52, who works at the World Affairs Conference at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “And one day I looked at the screen and thought, ‘You know what, we should just take a picture because this would be a great Christmas card.'”
Four out of five family members, including the Miller’s 16-year-old twins, beamed in from separate rooms in their Boulder home. Her 20-year-old daughter, a junior in Boulder, came out of her off-campus apartment.
“The photo isn’t perfect, but it wasn’t the year either,” said Ms. Hope. “I’m trying to accept the fact that it’s the holidays and this year will be over. This year is over! And maybe we’ll have the chance to start over. “