Top of page

A decorative image of different card layouts.
A detail from the guide "Gift Card Designing." By Pedros Lemos, 1922. (General Collections, Library of Congress).

Crafting from the Collections: Holiday Cards

Share this post:

The holidays are often a time to connect or reconnect with family and friends. That might mean visiting in person, but for many people it also means sending and receiving holiday cards. Growing up, my family received cards from friends and relatives across the country, and today I enjoy mailing my own. Making home-made cards can be an easy craft for you and your family – and a nice way to slow down during a hectic month. If you need a little help getting started, the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog is a handy place to look for inspiration. There are many design routes you can follow. Today, you might send or receive a card featuring a picture of your family. This was an option for people sending cards in the past too. For example, composer Leonard Bernstein enjoyed sending a photo of his family as a holiday card and did so for many years. Check out one example below.

A red backdrop with four black and white figures.
Bernstein with his children. Holiday Card. (Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. Photographs Series).

Bernstein isn’t the only famous person whose cards ended up at the Library of Congress. Charles and Ray Eames, American artists and designers, received many holiday cards from their friends and professional contacts. You can see some of these cards in our online catalog. The cards in this collection include many interesting patterns and abstract designs that might inspire your own card-making.

The Library of Congress also holds the extensive Rosa Parks Papers collection, which includes holiday cards, such as the one below. In it, Rosa is posed with her friend Elaine Steele.

Two women posed in front of a multicolored background with the words seasons greetings.
Season’s greetings, Rosa Parks, Elaine Eason Steele, 1996. (Visual Materials from the Rosa Parks Papers, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

If featuring yourself or family members doesn’t interest you, think about featuring a favorite animal. This is an especially popular choice for New Year greetings, as you can see in the two images below.

Rooster above the words Wishing you a happy New Year 1908.
Wishing you a Happy New Year – 1908 / F. (Cabinet of American Illustration, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress).


Cat face on a paint palette above the words a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Between 1880 and 1890. (Marian S. Carson Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

Rather than simple inspiration, you might prefer some concrete instructions. “Gift Card Designing,” published in 1922 by Pedro J. Lemos, provides step by step directions on how to craft the perfect holiday card. Lemos was an American artist, architect, and museum director.

I decided to test out Lemos’ instructions on how to design a card. The guidebook suggests that “Beginners in gift card designing should be encouraged to start with simple work… elaborate ideas, such as figures, ornate designs, etc., should be avoided at all costs.” I thought it wise to follow his suggestions, but I did skip over the very easiest designs (Plate 3) in order to challenge myself—and our blog readers— a little. A more elaborate design also meant I could more easily incorporate an image from our collection. Instead, I took inspiration from the more advanced cards that Lemos wrote “were made by students in high school grades” (Plate 4).

To begin, Lemos suggests you start with a “dummy” to help plan out your design.  You can see mine below.

Example card with a blank box labeled winter days image and additional text saying May Yuletide Cheer Be Yours This Year
An example of a “dummy” card. (Photo courtesy of Katie McCarthy.)

Next, Lemos explains that you should create a version with “plumb lines” (guidelines) to keep your lettering straight. Lemos suggested using both horizontal and vertical guidelines to help with spacing. I only used horizontal guidelines in my version to save time, but vertical lines definitely would have helped achieve perfect spacing. In addition to Lemos’ advice on lettering, I also looked to hand-lettering instruction books from the collection, such as “The Standard American Drawing and Lettering Book“, for inspiration.

Book cover reading The Standard American Drafting and Lettering Book A modern Treatise on The Art of Sign Writing.
The Standard American Drawing and Lettering Book, 1912. (General Collection, Library of Congress).
Example card with the words May Yuletide Cheer Be Yours This Year
An example draft with guidelines. (Photo courtesy of Katie McCarthy.)

After creating your draft with guidelines, Lemos suggests inking and finish coloring your card. In mine, I decided to use images available from the Library’s collection to add some flair, instead of drawing my own picture. The image I chose is called “Winter Days” and was initially published in 1881.

Example card with a winter scene on one side and the words May Yuletide Cheer Be Yours This Year on the other
An example of a finished card. (Photo courtesy of Katie McCarthy.)

Now it’s your turn! Using examples from “Gift Card Designing”, or drawing on your own inspiration, craft your own holiday cards for friends and family. Use images such as the ones above to create your own holiday memory to bring home.

Additional Activities:

  • If you can visit the Library in person, join us from December 27th – 30th to make your own collections-inspired crafts, including thank you cards. Free timed-entry passes are required to enter the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.
  • Pick a holiday and solve one of the “Problems in Gift Card Work” in the Lemos’ book
  • Explore the Halloween, Presidents Day and Valentine’s Day cards in the second half of the Lemos’ guide.
  • Chat with your family about what they think makes a good holiday card and write your modern own guidebook.

Additional Resources:


  1. I will just have knowledge and keep it them with me

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.