Thirty-one Years of Family Christmas Cards

This personal collection of ephemera showcases thirty-one Christmas cards sent by my family between the years 1983 and 2015, one design each year. The only years missing in the collection are 2007 and 2008. These cards did exist, but we no longer have copies of them. All the cards were largely created by my mother. She designed one each year and then produced and sent between 80-100 of them.

Below is a selection of images from the collection.  These images were selected for this post as they represent much of what is shown in the entire collection. In the first image, the card features a family photo with my mother in the center. The next card features sponge art created by my sister and me when we were nearly five and nearly two, respectively. The card with the bow displays a card with all the trappings of a local craft store. The nativity scene card features a picture taken by my mother of a local holiday decoration; and, finally, the bottom final card features an angel made using the die cut machine at a local school library.

The full collection of images can be accessed here.


Christmas Cards - 2015A   Christmas Cards - 1987A-1   Christmas Cards - 2000A-1   Christmas Cards - 2006A   Christmas Cards - 1994A

Collection Specs

  • Number of Images: 65
  • File Type: Jpeg
  • File Size: 2MB – 20MB
  • Image Size: varies (largest 10,800 x 8,067 pixels)
  • Resolution: 300 dpi


Collection Process

The majority of these images were captured using an iPad Air with the application Genius Scan. The application allows for an image to be automatically tilted and adjusted in an effort to create a clear unobscured image, as if it were scanned with a flatbed scanner. The intention behind this process was to create a clear representation of the front of the card as well as the inside and back when applicable. The cards were shot to fill the entire image in an effort to remove distractions.

If the inside and/or back of a card were blank, there is not image of that portion. All covers were documented along with any part of the card that had handwriting or text.

Some additional images were taken to better highlight the materials and textures of some of the more unique cards. These cards were selected because of their three-dimensional quality or because of an interesting technique or material: puffy paint, ribbons, decorative paper, etc. These images were also taken using an iPad Air. However, this time the camera was used. The background is a simple black background, again in an effort to remove any distraction that may detract from the object itself.

Finally, all of the images were put through Photoshop or Preview. To maintain the integrity of the image, they were not edited for color or clarity; Only the resolution was increased to create an image that would be more usable for a viewer.


Historical Context

In the collection, the earliest cards tend to feature finger paintings, handprints, or sponge and stencil paintings done by sister and me at a very young age. Through the 1990s, they become more representative of an annual family craft project complete with fabric, ribbon, die cuts and decorative papers. Finally, with the digital age and my sister and I out of the house, the most recent cards show digitally created designs, often made with the help of my sister who is a graphic designer, photographer and photo editor, or through an online program such as Shutterfly or Snapfish.

This collection has become personally important to our family as a physical representation of an important family tradition. My mother jokes about it: that if she neglects to create and send a personalized family Christmas card, people will either get offended or think that something terrible has happened to our family. My sister and I chastise her in good humor for creating this “monster” of a yearly tradition that we will be expected to uphold. In reality, we love this tradition – so much so that my sister immortalized of a few of the cards in Christmas ornaments to be hung on our family Christmas trees.

In a grander sense, this collection contributes to an interesting picture of the holiday season in America. It also provides a small window into how one American family celebrates the holiday season. Finally, it can even shed some light on the evolution of craft and DIY hobbies and techniques.


Using Personal Historical Ephemera in the Classroom

Collecting this personal ephemera has been a unique experience and one that could certainly be an enriching experience for students. A popular activity in classrooms in the past has been the “artifact bag” where students bring a selection of items from home for other student to analyze. It could be a unique experience for students to engage in a similar activity in the digital world. Perhaps after an introduction to historical ephemera and after viewing an example collection such as one of the personal collections on this website, students could collect their own ephemeral items and digitize them. Then, their fellow students could view the items on a class website and draw conclusions. An addition to this activity would be to do the activity both physically and digitally; allowing students to explore the pros and cons of working in an analog environment versus working in a digital environment.

In addition to this activity, working with historical ephemera could also allow students to better connect with the study of history and the history of their family and community. Often figures and events in history seem distant and unimportant. Through the act of collecting their own pieces of historical ephemera, students may be able to better understand how they are creating and contributing to history, perhaps leading them to connect better with the people who created and contributed to the history about which they will study and learn.

Written by ekharrod

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