The visual art of vintage Christmas cards allows us to look at how society viewed and interacted with the world at a certain moment in time as well as how their feelings and ideas were reflected onto the art depicted on them. This kind of visual art also allows us to understand how Christmas colour trends emerged through time as well as how other Christmas trends emerged over time. Here, we will explore vintage visual art trends which were typical throughout the 1920s to the 1960s on Christmas cards and how these trends evolved between these decades. Not only will this serve as a tool to understand the impact and influence of these eras on visual trends during Christmas time, but also provide an insight into how to create your own vintage-inspired Christmas cards!
When looking at the 1920s, pastel colours were the predominant colour scheme of choice in regards to Christmas cards visuals. Throughout the decade, there were variations within this pastel coloured scheme. Very soft pastels such as cream, rose and lavender was predominantly used at the beginning of this time, but as Art Deco became more widely present, these colours started to shift into more intense and vibrant versions of the originally softer pastels without losing their pastel essence. Interestingly, even with all the pastel choices for Christmas art and cards, red was undoubtedly the star of the show. Within Christmas decorations and Christmas greeting card designs and illustrations, red was used to illustrate all sorts of Christmas objects such as scarves and gift wrap. Green, however, only got a supporting role throughout this decade as it was primarily only used to illustrate greenery and plants on the cards. The 1920s was also a time where people really valued and emphasized an appreciation for coziness and the homey feeling of Christmas. This aspect was very much translated into the visual art that was depicted in greeting cards of this era such as illustrations of houses and villages during the Christmas season. Interestingly, the only elements inside a home that were depicted on Christmas cards during the 1920s were those of comforts such as the fireplace and the mantel around it. Another element that was common for Christmas cards was that of silhouettes of people as well as illustrations of children who were depicted in more relaxed poses than in past eras.
By the end of the 1920s, Art Deco was even more present and mainstream. This could be observed on Christmas cards, which had curvy lines throughout the borders as well as the use of geometric shapes to create the illustrations of these cards. It should also be noted that heavy card stock printed Christmas cards were considered more luxurious as they could also incorporate embossing and greater detail in the illustrations.
Moving into the 1930s, the visual art on Christmas cards had a very interesting recurrent subject, which was dogs. Many of the dogs chosen as subjects for Christmas art during this time were terriers, while other breeds were often depicted as more messy-looking. These dogs were seen as a reminder and projection of society’s willingness to strive to be happy and resilient despite the hard times during the 1930s. This era is also marked by the shift to the use of primary colours rather than the upbeat and calm pastel colours from the 1920s. There was a particular period where blue became the predominant colour in greeting cards. Sometimes all of the subjects of a card would be illustrated using only blue but in various shades. Also, in comparison with the 1920s, which had a focus on red, green, and red became equally used during this Christmas era. This was also the time where the red-suited Santa began gaining popularity and began being included in illustrations and cards.
As the 1940s rolled in, the greeting cards of this time continued incorporating red and green, but the incorporation of blue in equal proportions with these two other colours became widely popular during this time. One of the most notable aspects of the 1940s Christmas cards was that they started incorporating humour into the holiday spirit along with the illustrations on the cards. Also, characters and figures that were shown on the cards had very child-like features such as wide eyes and appeared to have a big smile on their faces; this was seen as the search for much-needed optimism and cheer during this decade. Some of the most popular characters seen with these features on Christmas cards during this era are snowmen as well as Santa’s deer, especially Rudolph. Another great visual from this era was the incorporation of a lit candle on cards. This was associated with hope during the time and was widely used as well in the season’s card illustrations.
It was in the 1950s when the most important subject of the home depicted on Christmas cards transitioned from an illustration of the fireplace and its mantel to the Christmas tree. In this era, a boom happened in regards to the use of soft pastel blue colours often paired with dark gray and pink. Nevertheless, green and red still remained as strong colors in Christmas cards during this time. By the late ‘50s, it was the cool aquas, which were the most popular in regards to the use of blues on Christmas cards. Moreover, this decade also saw an interesting and new way to create Christmas cards, which was to use mixed media on them by combining illustrations and photographs in the greeting cards.
The 1960s saw quite an interesting mix of traditionalism in its visuals while also incorporating what was deemed as super-modern at that time, such as the beginnings of the use of silver and platinum for Christmas art and sometimes even paired with the aqua colors of the 1950s. This was also the decade where all kinds of colours began being used in Christmas such as purple, orange, bright green, and even hot pink with interesting colour combinations between them. Nature scenes also became staples of Christmas cards during this decade. Fruits and apples made their big break onto the staples of imagery depicted on the greeting cards of this era. However, cards that illustrated deer standing on a snowy scene were the most typical. For these scenes, soft pastels were often the colours of choice. The 1960s was very much composed of all the new trends and super modern styles that were popping up throughout this time. However, they were counterposed by comebacks from past decade classics, such as simpler and more old fashioned illustrations and elements such as candy canes.
Now it’s your turn to use your creativity as a time machine to bring back the uniqueness of a vintage era to our current time by creating your own vintage-inspired Christmas cards!
By: Alexandra Vergara