Countdown to Christmas: The DIY Christmas Card

On those days when I spend an hour or so talking to Mac tech support on the telephone, I yearn for the simplicities of yesterday.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that the digital age has wrought magical transformations that in some respects make life a lot easier —and generally better.

Take the family photo Christmas card.

Today you take the picture with your digital camera and determine right away whether or not you got a good shot. If not, you try again, and when you’re satisfied, you can transfer the photo to your computer, go to Shutterfly, poke a few keys, type in your credit card information, and pretty soon, beautiful full-color cards appear in your mailbox.

In my family, back in the day, the photo Christmas card was a DIY project of the highest order. Production began immediately after Halloween.

Once we decided on how we were going to pose, it was time for the photo shoot.

piano-christmas-card-r1Ah, the photo shoot (or shoots)! There was no way of knowing until the film was developed and a contact sheet was in hand whether or not we all looked pleasant. Often we did not; for several years, one of us had the habit of making a funny face just as the shutter clicked. The photo shoot could go on for days.

Eventually we were successful and Dad then engaged the assistance of a business contact, a printer who had one of his artists hand letter a greeting on an 8×10 print. The lettered print was then photographed, producing a negative that we used to make our cards in the basement darkroom. “We” meaning my Dad and I, my sisters being too young to be helpful, and mother not much interested in the seriously boring position of darkroom assistant.

Producing the cards required hours spent in the darkroom under a red light. My job was to take the tongs and wiggle each print in the developing solution, transfer it to the stop bath, and then the fixative.  The process could not be rushed. The prints then had to be washed to remove the chemicals, but I can’t for the life of me remember how we did that.

I do remember that we placed the wet prints in between two long sheets of blotting paper that stretched across the living room floor. We then rolled them up and set them aside until the prints were dry.

Today it’s so much easier—so much faster.

But I’m not so sure my Dad would agree that it’s better. He had a lot of fun making the cards, he worked hard at it, and he was very proud of the result.

When machines become so competent that they can do what you pride yourself on doing,  it’s sometimes hard to figure out what you can be proud of. MLK

* * * * * * * * * *

My mother never bought a Christmas card in her life.

She drew her own; the verses were her original compositions. Before I was born, she was the office manager for a printer, who printed the cards for her. She then colored them by hand.

After I came along, my mother quit work to become a full time mom. She remained friends with her former boss, the printer, but she never returned to the work force. She was a true self-starter, a bright woman with a great deal of energy and promise. No doubt in my mind that she could have been a contender in the business world. Instead, she threw herself into being an energetic homemaker and continued to make the Christmas cards until my Dad died and she quit sending cards altogether. HWKme-card

We wish you a Christmas

As Warm and As Bright

As Our Hearth’s crackling flame

And the Star’s twinkling light.

Herbert, Mary Ellen, Herb, Maralee, Mark

Knapp, ’52

6 thoughts on “Countdown to Christmas: The DIY Christmas Card

  1. We’ve mostly done it the newfangled way. And I can’t say that the process has been much less arduous, what with the photo selection and retouching (or special effects) and custom design.

    Your examples are beautiful.


    1. Well, if you insist on DIY with the computer (bypassing Shutterfly), I suppose you could be right. And who knows, you might even have to talk to tech support! At least you don’t have to do it in the dark.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is my favorite post, ever! What a window into both sides of the family. I am so my grandparent’s grandchild! In answer to what we can be proud of now that machines can do everything, (Well, not EVERYTHING), I will be proud of what my grandparents and parents and I did before the machines took over.

    I notice that the family was not just The Gillhams but the SAM Gillhams. I guess Sam was the head of the household!

    Love the proud grandchild, Sarah


  3. The first DYI Christmas card from the Sam Gillhams , as I the little sister recall, was in l946 and the last one l959. Somewhere in there Mary went away to college and marriage, and I took over as the tong holder and blotter roller manager. The chemicals were removed in something called “the bath”. This was the last dip of the pictures in plain water. Not a lot of people made their own cards back then, and Daddy got a lot of attention over them. I didn’t enjoy the process at the time, but I sure love looking at them now.


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