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The Best Holiday Cards

MoMA Holiday Cards

How is it already holiday card season? There’s something so wonderful about cards, both the act of writing them and opening up the mail to discover a message from someone you love. Every year without fail, some of the loveliest cards are from MoMA Design Store

MoMA Holiday Cards

Left: Ben Shahn. Right: Design by Florence Bezrutczyk Copyright 1951.

I knew MoMA holiday cards had been around forever, but I didn’t realize how their card program is part of an incredibly rich tradition.

MoMA Holiday Cards

Left: Paul Klee: Child with toy, pen and ink. 1908. Right: Saul Steinberg: Santa Claus and Reindeer, pen and ink. Copyright 1947.

MoMA started commissioning and selling artist-designed cards in the 1940s, and then began distributing them to other retailers in 1952.

MoMA Holiday Cards

Left: Andy Warhol: Cherubs. Copyright 1952. Right: Herbert Migdoll: Three Crowns. Copyright 1958. Ivan Chermayeff: Noel. Copyright 1958.

MoMA Holiday Cards

Top: Mac Wells: Untitled. Copyright 1965. Left: Robert Indiana: LOVE, oil on canvas. Copyright 1965. Right: John Goodyear: STAR LIGHT AND DARK. Copyright 1965.

Over the years, many important works have appeared on MoMA cards, including Robert Indiana’s iconic Love motif in 1965.

MoMA Holiday Cards

And how cute are these pop-up cards? In the 1960s, MoMA’s holiday card offerings expanded to include “constructions,” which could also serve as inexpensive holiday presents. This tradition continues today, with their current collection of impressively engineered cards. Kids would go crazy for them!

MoMA Holiday Cards

This year’s collection includes this pinball machine, which flattens into an envelope, then easily pops into shape. Wouldn’t it be fun to get? You could even hang it on a tree.

MoMA Holiday Cards

Cards featuring artwork by Bruce Nauman.

MoMA Holiday Cards

MoMA Holiday Cards

Cards featuring artwork by Julian Opie, Cindy Sherman and an original commission from KAWS.

To celebrate their history of collaborating with artists on holiday cards, MoMA has brought back some original commissions from their archives, reproduced work from MoMA’s collection, and launched some brand-new artists’ cards. You can see the full collection here, if you’d like. They’re all so special and beautiful, and there’s truly something for everyone.

Do you send holiday cards? What are your favorites? I’d love to hear what you’re planning this year.

(Photography by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Styling by Veronica Olson. This post is sponsored by MoMA Design Store, our source for unique gifts and home goods for years. Thanks for supporting the partners that help keep Cup of Jo running.)

  1. I’m from Tennessee, so maybe it’s a Southern thing, but 90% of the cards that I receive and 100% of the cards that I send, are family photo cards. I love seeing everyone’s growing family!

  2. Kelly says...

    I bought those exact pinball machines, but realized later that so did my mother in law!

    My next door neighbor used to send us pop up cards every year when I was growing up. She died twenty years ago, but we still use her cards as ornaments, with her little handwritten notes attached!

  3. Oona says...

    Every year, my favorite NY museum holiday tradition is collecting the annual Met Museum star and snowflake (or waiting until after Christmas when they’re half off, haha). The Met has been releasing them since the early 70’s – before my time, but I’ve filled in the gaps in my collection with help from ebay. They’re really beautiful, but I don’t know anyone else who collects them. Their motifs are pulled from objects in the Met’s collection and they’re so beautifully wrought in sterling silver. I like to think my kids will continue to hang them for generations after me.

    • Jackie says...

      I’m going to check these out, Oona – they sound really lovely.

    • I have a similar tradition! Here in DC, the White House Historical Association releases an annual ornament. They commemorate historical presidents rather than current occupants, and they’re always detailed and lovely. For example, a couple years ago, one of my favorites was Calvin Coolidge: a Christmas tree (he oversaw the first national tree lighting), and the ornaments on the tree referenced things that were specific to him (a raccoon because they had a pet raccoon, eagle feathers for granting Native Americans citizenship, etc).

  4. Carrie says...

    They’re not at all festive though…

    • Caitlin says...

      I guess it depends on your idea of festive.

    • Jackie says...

      Yes, what is festive? I appreciate that they’re not religious and, instead, evocative of the season.

    • Carrie says...

      Festive doesn’t have to be religious, and in fact rarely is anymore

  5. Renée says...

    Hooray for MoMA cards! My favorite are the ones designed by Caldecott medalist Sophie Blackall (illustrator of Ivy& Bean series, A Fine Dessert, Hello Lighthouse, etc.):
    https://store.moma.org/holiday/holiday-cards/urban-holiday-holiday-cards-box-of-8/103853-103853.html?cgid=holiday-hoilday-cards#start=51
    MoMa used to carry 2-3 card designs by her; I wish they’d bring more back. I bought boxes and boxes of them a year or two ago at a ridiculous discount right before Christmas — I think they were 70% off. I like to give them to my kids’ teachers because they are familiar with her books. I also love the modern nativity cards — it’s hard to find well-designed, modern cards with a religious message so I appreciate that MoMa includes them.
    Such a great post! Add my vote for a future post about how to write a good holiday letter or personal note in your holiday cards. I nominate Jenny Rosenstrach as author. :-)

  6. KAT says...

    I find the best, most random holiday cards (or any occasion cards) at Goodwill. Some of them are really old and amazing. Fun to see what kind of treasures you can find there.

    • anne says...

      ooh good idea!

  7. Julia says...

    I always buy the MOMA cards in January for the next year, when they have great sales!

  8. Kristen says...

    oh no no no! I know there’s a point to giving your readers the best chance at the greatest selection (and I’ve always loved MOMA cards and sent many over the years, so great choice) but please do not throw the late December holidays at us on November 2! Ack!

    • t says...

      I disagree with you on this. Early November is when you have to begin thinking about holiday cards if you include custom or photo cards in your decision making process. We had our family photography session done in mid october for holiday cards and by the time I get them back from the photographer and order the cards it will be the first week of Dec that I receive them from the printers. So yeah, it’s OK to begin thinking about holiday cards in early November (you are also OK to think about holiday travel in September).

  9. I love this! My mother-in-law buys hundreds of MOMA pop-up cards each year, and everyone knows and looks forward to her super fun cards. My one-year-old niece carried it around in her little purse for a whole year, she loved it so much. MOMA cards are the best!

  10. I love the holiday cards at Papyrus, I just bought four (I KNOW, I AM A CHRISTMAS WEIRDO) boxes of some super cute designs. Every year I sit down, pour a glass of wine, throw on The Muppet Christmas Carol, and write out my cards. I love the tradition.

    • Liz Velasquez says...

      I agree. Papyrus has the most beautiful cards.

  11. Marisa says...

    I love sending holiday cards! Since I was little, I have designed, drawn, and illustrated a different holiday card each year (shout out to my mom for encouraging me to be artistic from a young age!). It’s given me an appreciation for sending mail to loved ones near and far. It’s also nice to look back over the years and see how my drawing style has evolved :)

  12. Thanks for this walk back in time. I have given out so many MOMA holiday cards over the years. They continue to be some of my faves.

  13. I love sending cards to people during the Holiday season – it just makes me feel so incredibly festive!!

    Rebecca

  14. These are seriously so cute!!

    Hannah

  15. jeannie says...

    Love the MOMA cards. The LOVE card has been one of my favorites. Also, love the snowy pine in the new collection. And Maurice Sendak – so amazing!

  16. Emily says...

    I enjoy holiday cards very much, but these are not holiday cards; these are Christmas cards. Call it what it is.

    As a Jew, I can promise that I will never buy a “holiday” card with holly, a reindeer, or a red and green color theme. A few more neutral options, a Hanukkah card, or a few more New Years cards would have been nice.

    Don’t mean to be grinchy, I just assumed that if we were using “holiday” it would encompass more than one holiday.

  17. Ana says...

    I always sent cards from Unicef–cute cards, good cause. I get two different designs and give one of them to my mother as a Thanksgiving present. A retired schoolteacher, my mother likes designs with children, but we inevitably end up swapping a few cards, so we each get a few of both designs. This year: maybe some cheerful children and a smug but stylish moose?

    https://www.market.unicefusa.org/p/wonderful-world-unicef-holiday-cards-set-of/U1055/

    https://www.market.unicefusa.org/p/unicef-holiday-cards-boxed-set-of-12-the-moose/U33417/

    • Rose says...

      Yes! UNICEF makes my favorite cards. I love giving them and receiving them.

  18. jeannie says...

    I totally love the LOVE card! And I love the snowy pine card in their new collection. I will definitely be sending that to my grandchildren. What is so great about the MOMA collection is that you can find something gorgeous for everyone. And they are all so artistic and beautiful. The Maurice Sendak card is lovely.

  19. Rae says...

    Oooh, those Ben Shahn & Ivan Chermayeff cards are lovely.
    I love receiving, and sending, holiday cards! I hang all of our received cards as a garland on our mantle and they stay up until Valentine’s Day each year ; )
    I used to really enjoy choosing my Christmas cards & MoMA always had a great collection of graphic and clever cards. Now I send a photo card but I still look at MoMA’s catalogue each year!

  20. jen says...

    Well, reading this just cost me $30 because I found a christmas card I didnt resist.

  21. Dana says...

    Oh shoot, I clicked on this thinking it would be about the best cards like–an honest and personally written note or a picture of your family on a trip together was more well liked than staged. These MoMA cards are so beautiful but maybe there’s an idea for another post in there?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love that idea, Dana! My grandmother always writes a personal handwritten note inside her holiday card (instead of just a “love Milly” or whatever) and it’s wonderful. I always look forward to them. I want to carve out time to do that this year.

    • Amy says...

      There’s something out there for everyone! I honestly feel a little weird sending everyone a photo of my face, and my husband and I LOVE art — this is the perfect alternative to the traditional family photo cards, thank you, Joanna! I second Dana’s suggestion for a post about what to write IN the cards <3

    • anne says...

      Aw you could write this kind of post about my grandma too. She had my sisters and I help on her Thanksgiving card assembly line while she wrote the personal notes. She’s 98 this year and still writing <3

  22. Laura says...

    I admit, at first glance i was like, WHAT, HOLIDAY CARDS ALREADY?!?! but these are really truly awesome cards. i need to get my butt in gear and grab some instead of waiting too long and having only boring options left! thank you for sharing these with us!

  23. AC says...

    What great, sponsored content!!! Thanks COJ and MoMA!

  24. Meggie says...

    These cards are gorgeous!! I love buying unique cards from artists. This year I’m getting a variety pack of cards with Christmas song lyrics (my favorite!) from Andrea Woodlee Design, her cards are quirky and bright and I love being able to picture the person making them with love!

  25. SarahN says...

    I think I skipped last year for cards. I have a sprinkling of friends over the world from living in France in 2006, and doing two 3 week summer schools there. And I love to keep in touch with people I might one day travel to see! Facebook helps keep in touch though.

    Last year’s skipping MAY be because I was a few months out from a four year relationship – so not much ‘good’ news. Actually that was the year prior – man. I’m a wreak.

    I don’t buy ‘new’ cards every year – I try to ‘use it up’ the last years, and tend to track who got what cards, so two years running they don’t get the same. Yeah, I’m a little over the top, but it’s me :)

    • Melissa Rosen says...

      LOVE

  26. Ruth says...

    The pinball machine =😍

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I know! The best!

  27. Kim says...

    That pinball card is genius!
    I send a holiday card every year, always with a photo of our family. It’s my favorite tradition. I sit down at the dining room table with the cards, my pens, the address list, and a big glass of wine. We get a family photo taken every other year so I use that on those years…other years it’s a photo from a trip we’ve taken. I’ve kept all of our cards since we’ve been sending them…18 years…it’s so fun to look back at them. xoxo