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5 Christmas card designs so bad they're actually good

In a digital age of apps, email and instant messaging, it's almost incredible that the 19th century tradition of sending Christmas cards to friends, family and colleagues remains in good health – with around a billion cards sold in 2018. 

According to the Greetings Card Association, the market is worth £1.7 million, and so with so many people getting involved, it's perhaps understandable that there's a temptation to let loose with designs, sometimes leading to unintentional hilarity. 

Other times, intentionally bad designs can raise a smile from even the most jaded Ebenezer Scrooge. Here are our favourites of the bad, the ugly and the downright weird. And if you're feeling inspired to make your own creation, you could always take a look at our how to draw tutorials to help you on your way.

01.  Awkward smiles

christmas cards

Smile? No? Then just bare your teeth (Image credit: The Blairs)

To many of us there might seem something strange about sending a Christmas card with your own image on it, but it’s long been a tradition among public figures – the first ever commercially produced card designed by civil servant Sir Henry Cole in 1843 depicted his own family, and family Christmas cards are a tradition in the US. 

The strangest thing about this 2014 card from former British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie is that presumably this shot, in which Cherie seems to be holding her husband back from setting upon the photographer, was chosen as the best from the session. Comments on Twitter at the time ranged from calling it "Menacingly odd", to "terrifying".

02. All-out bling

christmas cards

The Kardashians show there’s no such thing as OTT at Christmas – click to see the card in all its glory (Image credit: David LaChappelle)

The Kardashian-Jenner clan took family Christmas cards to a characteristically OTT extreme with this 2013 offering, which cost a reported US$ 250,000 to produce. The photo shot by David LaChappelle shows the women of the family in black dresses, Kim in a revealing gown and Kris wearing a Metropolis-esque head-piece, against a gaudy carnivalesque backdrop decked with neon lights, pop art, Olympic gold medals, mannequins and graffiti reading 'fame', with discarded Rolling Stone magazines on the floor showing Kanye West as Jesus for an extra festive touch. It’s horrendously (or wonderfully) garish and perfectly captures the out-of-control consumerism of the season.

03. Random animals

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Animals feature highly in the great Christmas tradition of greetings cards, from robins in the snow to airborne reindeer and penguins relocated to the arctic. So why not cats? Manchester’s Chetham’s Library thinks this card is the worst in their Edwardian collection and the choice of picture seems to be as random as it is ugly, but, produced by Raphael Tuck & Sons in the early 1900s using artwork by French artist Maurice Boulanger, the randomness of the image and the message 'Splashing with loving Christmas wishes' gives it a certain charm.

04. Cringeworthy in-jokes

christmas cards

A Christmas message from the Bake Off star (Image credit: @kimjoyskitchen on Twitter)

There’s nothing like turning to popular culture for some pop references and more puns and Christmas humour, like this delightful wish for the season from celebrity chef and TV presenter Paul Hollywood, a judge on The Great British Bake Off known for his appreciation of a moist fruit cake. It’s so squirm-inducing that it’s brilliant.

05. Unfortunate composition

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Umm... (Image credit: @PaulQPR on Twitter)

As with any project, designers need to pay close attention to composition, scale, colour and the juxtaposition of all the elements in a design for a Christmas card. The snowman in this card sent out by a company to its customers seems to be just a little too excited about the imminent holiday season.

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Joseph is a freelance writer, translator and project manager based in Buenos Aires, where he spends his nights dancing tango.