I just opened one of the most wonderful, whimsical Christmas cards I’ve ever received, and it’s from one of our own, Catherine Perry. Produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the card features an illustration by American artist Arthur Rackham that first appeared in Clement C. Moore’s book “The Night Before Christmas.”
The front of the card is like an Advent calendar, allowing you to open a small square each day, revealing darling pencil sketches (an elf, a ballerina, a mouse).
I wasn’t familiar with Rackham or Moore before I got this card, but I immediately flipped it over to read the details of this enchanting image. And then I ordered Moore’s book. I know my nephews and niece will love it. (And so will I!)
Catherine’s card confirmed a theory I’ve been developing for some time now: single Catholic women give the best Christmas cards. Hands down. They’re much less likely to send those obnoxious, color-coordinated our-family-could-be-models photo cards and a whole lot more inclined to put in the time and energy to find a card with beautiful imagery of someone else.
That imagery is often religious, heeding the advice Father James Martin once offered NPR readers in an essay titled “More Virgin Mary, Less Virgin Islands”:
Doesn’t it strike you as weird to set aside the Holy Family in favor of your family? Does a photo of Cabo San Lucas trump the story told by the original San Lucas? Is Christmas really about you?
A few days ago I received one of the most exquisite religious cards that has graced my mailbox. It too came from a CatholicMatch woman! The Hallmark card features the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus boxed in gold glitter, surrounded by the Scripture passage from St. Luke telling of Jesus’ birth. I’ve never seen such a lengthy (and well warranted) Scripture passage on a card cover, and it worked beautifully to frame the image of Mary and Jesus. I’m definitely saving this one. In fact, I didn’t even have the heart to relegate it to my basket of cards. I’ve displayed it in my home as a bit of more personal Christmas decor.
Yet another dear friend (who also belongs to CatholicMatch) sent an absolute gem last year, which I’ve saved. It features “Mary Adoring Christ” (right), an oil painting done by Antonio Allegri da Correggio in 1522 that now belongs to Florence’s Uffizi Gallery (as noted on the back of the card – don’t you love flipping over a card and getting a little art history lesson?) It’s one of my favorites of the Blessed Mother, who looks delighted and enthralled by her baby son, the infant King. I love how her hands are splayed in wonder. (It’s one of five designs in this Barnes & Noble boxed set of Madonna & Child Christmas cards.)
Another fabulous friend, who is also a single Catholic woman and a contributor to the CatholicMatch blog, makes a point to keep the merry in Christmas. I always look forward to her annual Christmas card; it’s one of the few-and-far-between cards that is actually funny. This year’s (left) came from Colette Paperie and brought a big smile to my face. Don’t you love it, my wine-drinking CatholicMatch ladies?
The best Christmas card I’ve ever given features an oil painting by Morgan Weistling called “Kissing The Face of God” (right). I found a box of 20 at Tuesday Morning in Mendota Heights, Minn. – the last one in stock. It looks like you can buy it through a Catholic goods store called Aquinas & More. I recently communicated with a Catholic woman named Fran who wanted to order and frame the card for her daughters and daughters-in-law as a Christmas gift. I referred her to this site, which was connected with the company that made my Tuesday Morning set. Fran reported back:
I went through American Stationery…cards are pricey ($40 for 25 cards) BUT that’s many wonderful gifts for all the new moms in our family.
I was pleased to find more religious imagery on boxed cards from Tuesday Morning this year, including this set (left) of 24 by Punch Studio, which includes six different images, four of each.
I wholeheartedly believe in the power of beautiful religious imagery, and there’s no telling what little miracle could result when we seal the envelope, add that 44-cent stamp and send off a holiday card.
I recently had the privilege of chatting with Brother Mickey McGrath, an award-winning artist whose joy-filled renditions of Mary are among my very favorite. Brother Mickey spoke of the spiritual impact of beautiful art, saying:
St. Francis De Sales says we pray best before beauty, because beauty puts us in the presence of the source of all beauty. It makes us more mindful of God.
Don’t you agree?
In his 1999 letter to artists, Blessed John Paul II wrote about the inspiration behind beautiful art. This Advent I recently went back to that letter and found myself writing this passage on a Post-It, which is now stuck on my computer monitor, a reminder to relish this lovely, holy season:
“[Beauty] is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future.”
Here’s to the beauty we capture and share this Advent – through the mail, through a paint brush, through a keyboard, through a camera lens and through a grateful heart.