Okay, I am well aware that this post may have been far more apropos earlier on. But I didn’t think of it till now and I didn’t want to wait another year to do it because I really want to share these with you guys. But also Christmas is not quite over, liturgically speaking (it might actually end the day I’m posting this…?) so it still counts.
Also hi. How are yis’ beauts? Well, I hope? I am passably adequate. And also outrageously excited.
Because today I have decided to share with you some of my favorite things in the world–Victorian Christmas cards.
I can hear you thinking already “Grim, this is lame, whose idea was this, what is exciting about Christmas cards in any capacity at the end of Christmas–especially Victorian ones.”
Prepare to get your socks blown off, guys. Because Victorian Christmas cards are an untapped source of the alarmingly unfestive, excessively peculiar, and, quite often, disturbingly macabre. (They’re also usually beautifully done art-wise. Just as a side note.)
I am now going to share 12 of my favorites and rate them for festiveness, creepiness, and just general weirdness. So that’s that for that.
Disclaimer: my original interest in and knowledge of Victorian Christmas cards came from this video, by one of my favorite historical fashion creators on YouTube. (yes there is a substantial and amazing group of people that make historical fashion content on the internet. Bernadette Banner is my fashion icon and that’s that). Some of the cards on this list were also in that video, but some of them I’ve discovered at other times, through other videos or on my own. Exact image source is more or less irrelevant, because these bad boys landed in the public domain a long time ago, but just know that I pulled them off of (mostly) Pinterest and other websites.
Also, be warned that some of these images are genuinely nightmare fuel, depending on the viewer–if very irreproachable and beautifully painted nightmare fuel.
1. I feel like this kid’s name is Raymond
Starting off strong with one of my all time favorites, and perhaps you can already see this is going to go interesting places (although you can’t imagine how weird it gets from here). I love how this image is so…hearable. You can just hear Raymond’s muffled shriek as Santa stuffs him in his bag. I’m not sure why Santa’s stuffing him there but…yeah.
Festivity: 10/10. Trust me on this one. This is one of the most Christmas relevant cards on this list.
Morbidity: Probably a 6/10. Santa’s face is pretty chill, so I assume he doesn’t have any particularly bad intentions for this kid.
General Peculiarity: Eh. 3/10. I feel like you could find this exact same card–granted, far less fearfully and wonderfully executed–in a cheesey cartoon style in the Hallmark isle.
2. Beet root man…at least, I assume it’s a beet root?
Okay now maybe you’re starting to see what I’m talking about.
Like…what is this.
I mean, no offense beet root man. (if you are a beet root. *waves at the comments section* does this gentleman look like any root other than a beet to you more agriculturally minded folks?)
Festivity: I can’t see a single Christmas-y thing about this one aside from the caption. However. Beetroot man is looking very dapper. And seems to be trotting along at a good pace. It is perhaps reasonable to assume, between those facts and the caption, that he is on his way to Christmas Mass, or something like. So I shall give him a 2/10 for festivity as a good faith pledge.
Morbidity: Eh. I mean, aside from the idea of a living man-beetroot fusion being pretty terrifying, this dude seems pretty chill. I’ll give him a 5/10 for morbidity.
General Peculiarity: 10/10. Like. What exactly is this…?
(so sorry beetroot man. I swear, we’d be friends in real life. You seem nice. But just…what.)
3. This is an Easter Card and I will stake my life on it.
I see absolutely no reason to put a humanoid egg on a Christmas card. I also see absolutely no reason why said humanoid egg should have an alarming lack of head despite having a hole where the head ought to be. Like…is that some sort of membrane concealing its face? Or does it just…not have a head? Because I’m not sure which would be worse. AGH. This one is genuinely unnerving to me, and I’m not sure why.
Festiveness: 0/10. I do not have any particular fondness for this image, so I shall not attempt to talk it out of its plight a la beetroot man.
Morbidity: 6/10. See the rant above. It’s not nearly as morbid as we’re going to get today, which is why it’s not rated any higher. But it’s probably the most terrifying of all these images to me personally.
General Peculiarity: 9/10. Not, in fact, 10/10, because a walking human-egg hybrid is certainly something that must have been conceived of many a time. I don’t know that it’s often executed in such an unsettling way though.
4. Is this a cry for help?
Okay but like what is with this caption?! I get that the little soldier is probably meant to be Hans Anderson’s Steadfast Tin Soldier, but a) that story is way too sad and dark for a Christmas card and b) this caption is just unnerving. I mean. That sounds either like a cry for help or a taunting challenge. And neither one of those things is Christmas-y (or a pleasant thing to receive on an otherwise beautifully painted card).
Festiveness: okay, so I think Anderson’s story takes place sometime ’round Christmas. There is also snow in the picture. So I shall give this image an 8/10 for festiveness. BUT I’M NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT. Who’s ever gotten a Christmas card with a threat on it? (because really, it feels like a threat.)
Morbidness: if it weren’t for the veiled subtext and the content of Anderson’s story, I’d give it a 0–nothing inherently scary about the image. But under the circumstances I think it’s going to have to be a 4/10.
General Peculiarity: once again. If it weren’t for the caption, this card would be chill, festive, ordinary and adorable. But the CAPTION. Guys, it makes that charming bird seem like a monstrous threat, the elegant tin soldier a desperate, lonely hero, and the lovely aesthetical woods a howling wilderness. None of which is particularly peculiar, except in context. I can’t quite decide. So I’m going to give it a 6/10.
5. What’s in the bottle?
The problem with this picture is that if you look at this exact same drawing of a clown but mentally photoshop him to have normal hair and no clown make up, he still looks like an absolute psychopath. I mean….I’m real confused, real alarmed, and I want to know what he’s been drinking. What kind of Christmas spirits (intentional pun) are those…?
Festiveness: I mean, he’s eating a Christmas pie, paired with somewhat questionable alcohol. Which sounds like a Victorian Christmas if I’ve ever heard one. However, due to the lack of anything vaguely Christmas-y about clowns, since the clown is the centerpiece, I shall give it a 6/10.
Morbidity: I know some people find clowns terrifying. I…don’t? But I also totally understand that it’s a common phobia. So I shall give this one an 8/10 for general scariness under the heading morbidity. Because that is quite the leer that dude has.
General Peculiarity: Eh. Not that weird. 4/10.
6. More terrifying human-food composites!
SERIOUSLY WHAT IS WITH THE HUMAN FOOD HYBRIDS.
I didn’t even pull all of the ones I know! There’s also potatoes! Apples! Pudding! And now roast beef!
Whose idea was this?! I just want to talk.
Festiveness: Roast beef is a very Christmas-y thing. Also, roast beef man is dressed up quite nicely–as is his lady friend. And the Christmas-y poem definitely assists his case. I think I’ll give him a 7/10.
Morbidity: It’s not morbid until you think about the fact that roast beef is the centerpiece of the feast and the thing most people tend to be most interested in devouring. (i.e….’esteem most high’ really means ‘largest helping on your plate.’) Then you begin to realize just how macabre this is. 8/10.
General Peculiarity: This guy is weirder than beetroot man. Probably just because he’s supposed to be interacting with other people, whereas beetroot man is just vibing on his own terms. So I’m going to have to also give him a 10/10.
This one has always been one of my favorites but…I think it does all its own talking. I’m just going to let it speak for itself.
Festiveness: honestly, nothing about this says Christmas. Not even the caption. 0/10.
Morbidity: It’s not exactly morbid…it’s just…really unsettling. Like. REALLY. 7/10.
General Peculiarity: 8/10. One of the oddest greeting cards (for any season) I’ve ever seen. And as I said, a personal favorite. Just…so simple, but so effective.
8. “Ya boy Krampus”
I’m quite certain you’ve all heard the tales of Krampus, the demon who travels with St. Nicholas and drags away the bad children. it might interest you, thereby, to know that the Victorians had a serious obsession with putting him on their Christmas cards. I like this one best for two reasons: 1. the girl on the left looks only mildly perturbed and I find it funny. 2. the other cards I’ve found with Krampus are genuinely terrifying. Usually far more violent, with far more upsetting depictions of scared children.
Festiveness: I mean…I guess Krampus is appropriate for Christmas…? But he’s not the thing you want to be thinking about. 7/10.
Morbidity: Terrifying. These kids are getting carted off to Hell by that there red-tongued monster. (Nothing says ‘Christmas’ like child damnation, apparently.) 10/10.
General Peculiarity: I mean, it’s weird to have Krampus on a Christmas card, but he’s pretty well known. It’s no weirder than putting Zephyr or The Norns on stationary. Which is…come to think of it…kinda weird. BUT ONLY CAUSE IT’S STATIONARY. I don’t need to explain myself to you people. 5/10.
9. Do you care to explain how you got in there?
I’m sorry, what?! ‘With Love’…? Yeah no, I’m just not getting it. Nothing about your face says love, peace, or anything Christmas-y, kid. Also, how do you fit in there? Is the teapot oversized or are you undersized? Moreover, nothing seems to be keeping you in there, so I don’t understand why you’re so upset about. With all those things taken into consideration, I’m going to assume you are, in fact, in the home of a giant, who’s decided to boil you for tea. Which would explain both the odd scaling and the upset. But still. I…don’t get it.
Festiveness: I mean, the teapot is really gloriously painted. And I sort of associate tea with Christmas…? But I believe tea is highly appropriate for every occasion, so I don’t know that that counts. The kid does seem to be in some sort of pomp-and-circumstance costume. Perhaps it’s Christmas teatime that the giant’s using him for. But whatever way you slice it, I don’t think I can give this more than a 2/10.
Morbidity: It depends. Is the kid in any danger? His facial expression and his size relative to the dish would suggest so. (if that’s the teapot, he could easily drown in the soup tureen). I think we’re going to go with yes. In which case all sorts of macabre possibilities open up and this rapidly arrives at 6/10 at the very least.
General Peculiarity: It’s not as innately strange as Beetroot or Roast Beef man. But it’s still pretty darn weird. At least on par with ‘I’ve come to greet you.’ So we’ll give it an 8/10.
10. I assume this card is to me from a cat
…because only a cat could possibly think it a good idea to send a picture of a dead bird with the caption ‘may yours be a joyful Christmas.’
Interestingly, though, as terrible as this card is (I mean…at least it’s to the point. Just bird corpse. Nothing else) I think I might know what it’s referencing. There’s a tradition regarding wrens and St. Stephen’s day (article on it here; although I only skimmed it, I assume it’s about the same tradition I know) in Ireland (yes, I’m well aware the bird in the picture isn’t a wren, but bide a wee, and I think you’ll see why it might be applicable). According to tradition, St. Stephen hid in a bush from the mob trying to stone him, and it was a wren that gave him away. So on St. Stephen’s day in Ireland, all the lads would go out and stone wrens. They’d then carry the dead bird around from house to house and ask for food, drink, etc. in order to give the bird a proper funeral (a la trick-or-treaters). (yes as crazy as this sounds it was a real thing and I found out about it because there’s folk songs about it. Go figure.)
Anyway. I think perhaps that tradition might have something to do with the dead songbird motif. Because believe me, I only picked one out of many dead songbird Victorian Christmas cards out there.
Festiveness: Despite everything I just said….I’m sorry. It’s my ranking and I just can’t see dead birds as festive. 3/10…and the three is only due to potential historical background.
Morbidity: Um. It’s literally the corpse of an innocent songbird. Wishing you a joyful Christmas. 10/10.
General Peculiarity: Nothing peculiar about dead birds….EXCEPT WHEN THEY’RE ON CHRISTMAS CARDS. 6/10.
11. At least they’re well fed
…barely even have words for this one.
Which is partially why it’s one of my favorites.
It’s not like the ‘I’ve come to greet you’, in that it’s simply effective.
I love it more because it just raises a monstrous amount of questions–the necessary culmination of which can only be the horrifying but essential prequel to this image, whereat a mob of rats overwhelms and then roasts a cat.
There’s just…a lot going on in this image.
But hey. At least they’re eating well on Christmas…I think…that might have been the family pet though…or worse, the Christmas kitten…in which case…oh gosh, I need to stop overthinking this. *tears hair*
Festiveness: I think I’m required to give this a pretty high festivity rating, unfortunately. It’s a family feast. Which is very Christmas-y, especially when compared to some of the others on this list. 7/10.
Morbidity. 10/10. No questions asked, no answers given.
General Peculiarity: 10/10. I’ve never heard nor conceived of such an idea. How. What. Why. Who did this, and are they okay.
12. And I saved the weirdest for last…
*gestures lamely at the picture*
A merry Christmas to you, guys.
Nothing says Christmas like one frog murdering another frog in cold blood and making off with his money…which is apparently quite substantial.
(believe it or not, frogs, and esp. dead frogs are quite common on Victorian Christmas cards. this one is by far the most notable I’ve found though.)
I feel like this image defies rating, honestly.
So I’m going to leave this last one up to you. Feel free to rate it in the comments, and/or debate my other ratings.
Wrap Up + One of the Most Beautiful Things I’ve Ever Heard
Well there you have it. A quick foray into the weird world of Victorian Christmas cards.
I hope you got a good laugh, and hopefully were not too disgusted, freaked out, or perturbed.
I mean you have to hand it to them: the art is quite good.
And if nothing else, these are extremely easy to find online in good quality, and they’re all in the public domain. So perhaps you can use this as some inspiration to put in your back pocket for next year’s Christmas cards.
I myself have a resolution to send out at least one of these beauts to at least one friend next year. I’m still uncertain which.
With that I must leave you. I would like, however, to leave you with a thing of true beauty, no morbidity or peculiarity about it. Our church recently hired a music director, and he forever gained my respect and loyalty by having us choristers learn, first thing, this haunting setting of the Coventry Carol that I have long loved. And we did a pretty good version of it, if I do say so myself. One of the most beautiful things I know…no bones about it.
Well friends, I hope you had a good laugh over the cards and a good moment of thought with the hymn…tell me in the comments, which card was your favorite, what you thought of the song, or any general opinions! I shall be back next week–this time, for certain, with some fan folktion. God bless you now and always!
6 replies on “Farewell to the Liturgical Season of Christmas–macabre Victorian style”
Grim, this absolutely made my day. Oh my goodness. The dead bird! The beetroot man! (I love him) THAT POOR KID IN THE TEACUP! (I can’t get over the INTENSE FEAR AND AGONY of his expression; like what is happening to this child?) Not to mention the utter bizarreness of…most all of them? Oh my, it was glorious I tell you.
I think the first one is pretty disturbing, personally, but maybe that’s just because my immediate thought on seeing it was that Santa and Krampus had switched appearances, so…poor kid.
(But…but murderous frogs????)
Ahhh this really made my day.
Also, that arrangement of Coventry Carol is my new favorite version of it. Beautiful.
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AREN’T THEY GLORIOUS?! Victorian crackhead art is some of the weirdest and most entertaining stuff in the world, and I’m so glad y’all like it too. Beetroot guy is so very dapper I can’t bring myself to disdain him. He’s just living his best life and it’s great. As for the kid in the teacup, I heard somebody once say he had drowned in it. He doesn’t LOOK dead to me, but if that were the case, it might explain his expression. Although it would also make the card intensely morbid so…idk. Right? THEY’RE SO FREAKIN’ WEIRD AND I LOVE IT.
Yeah, I heard somebody else say that as well. (it’s been the great amusement of my holiday season this year to show everybody I’ve spent holiday with these old things, and so I’ve gotten a lot of opinions on the matter).
(I know. Just….what. Why. Whose idea was that.)
Isn’t it beautiful? Oh I’m so glad you liked it Sarah. Your comment made MY day, so thank you for leaving it. 🙂 God bless you friend!
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Oh my goodness, Grim, this is hilarious! I’ve seen some Victorian Christmas cards before, but not ones nearly as horrifying as these…like, dead birds and frogs? Horrified children? THAT SOLDIER ONE? What on earth??
I have to admit, though, for some reason I really love the roast beef one, and the goat one. XD
I’m a little curious whether the Victorians found these just as funny as we do, and they would send them to each other and laugh, but that fact wasn’t passed down in our cultural memory…
And that setting of Coventry is beautiful!
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I KNOW RIGHT. Some of the cards are nicer…they may be weird but they make a BIT more sense, and they’re not scary, at least. And some of them are genuinely lovely. But then there’s the batch of misfits, of which these are only a small sampling, and…well. Yeah. You pretty much said it. What on earth.
Roast beef is such a chill, well dressed gentleman that I cant’ find it in my heart to dislike him. XD And the goat one is just a mood.
That’s a very good question. I personally have heard the explanation that, since Christmas cards had just been invented, ‘the visual language of Christmas’ hadn’t really solidified yet. I think that’s kind of reasonable, but I think you also have to add on the potentiality of it being the Victorians fondness of medicinal crack…and stuff of that sort. And of course there is also the imaginative explanation that these were the equivalent of Victorian memes. I like that one quite a lot.
Bless you Sam! Thanks for stopping by!
GRIM. The cards are great, no doubt about it, but the best part of this post? Your commentary. HYSTERICAL, I tell ye.
Thank you for this, my dear.
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Awww, thanks dear! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I felt it was kinda chaotic and not too sensible, but I told myself that was par for the course with the songs anyway, so…*shrugs*…glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by!