HAPPY HOLIDAYS, one and all! Boy, these winter holidays sure sneak up on us, don't they? Seems like just yesterday I was writing about the five scariest 39¢ Halloween cards, and now here I am writing about scary 39¢ Christmas cards. What's that you say? Scary Christmas cards?! Christmas cards aren't scary! And if that's what you're saying, you couldn't be more wrong. In fact, I'd argue that Christmas cards have the potential to be far more terrifying than Halloween cards -- if only because horror in October is more or less appropriate, whereas horror in December is just plain wrong. Think about it. If you murder a person in your backyard during the fall, what happens? You toss some autumn leaves over the body -- leaving the arm sticking up, of course -- smear the blood on a fence, and nobody'll investigate further until November because until then they'll just think you've got some wicked cool 'ween decorations. Murder a person in winter, however, and the pristine white snow is staned red, red, red, and Santa Claus gets all pissed because now his red, red, red suit makes him look like the guilty party. Especially since he breaks into people's homes in the dead of night and steals their food.
Anyway, my point is that Christmas cards can be even scarier than Halloween cards because Halloween cards are supposed to be scary -- and oftentimes aren't, at least not intentionally so -- whereas Christmas cards are supposed to fill us with love and joy and the urge to bake cookies and shit. As such, if they manage to give us even a mild shiver of discomfort, that's pretty damned significant. And below? We've got the five scariest of all.
The 5th SCARIEST 39¢ Christmas Card:
Ah, the fifth scariest Christmas card. And what's so scary about it, you ask? Well, the obvious reason concerns the simple fact that THAT TANNENBAUM IS PRETTY GODDAMNED FUCKED UP. Apparently the right half of it is gone -- but to where, I don't know. Is the tree in the process of being sucked into a portal to Dimension X? Is it presently being consumed by an invisible tree-devouring giant monster? Or is this what Christmas trees look like in the Netherworld, and we'd best watch out for sandworms if we know what's good for us? I can't imagine anyone looking at that tree and being filled with holiday cheer. The angles are sharp and jagged, the lines are rough and ragged, the star is uneven, there are only three ornaments on the freaky tree, and let's not forget that the ozone layer appears to have been entirely depleted, flooding the atmosphere with blinding white cancer-causing rays from the sun. Merry Christmas indeed -- and that's before you even open the bloody card.
Inside, everything seems all hunky-dory and merry, doesn't it? Maybe a little too merry. Merry presents? I don't know about you, but I don't see any presents under that tree. What the hell is the card talking about, then? It's trying to lull you into a false sense of security. Merry joys? Right, because it makes sense to talk about depressing joys. Overenthusiastic and redundant attempts to facilitate cheer are never good signs -- they tend to indicate insincerity. Merry people? Sure, until they see the flashing knife. Hey, MERRY CHRISTMAS!
The 4th SCARIEST 39¢ Christmas Card:
Okay, so that last one was kind of subtle in its approach to fear, relying on twisted artistic vision and over the top repetition of key words to communicate its petrifying point. And yes, that's scary, but at holly jolly Christmastime sometimes overt attempts to terrify get the job done better. That's certainly the case here, where the cover text appears to have been written in a font adapted from Aleister Crowley's handwriting and looks like something a vampire might give to a victim after draining a substantial portion of her sweet virgin blood. MERRY CHRISTMAS, WRETCHED HUMAN! THANK YOU FOR THE DRINK. And inside, the sender thanks the recipient for his/her thoughtfulness. What thoughtfulness? It's a Christmas card, so clearly it's being sent before Christmas, yet the interior text quite plainly thanks the recipient for an action that takes place on Christmas. Therefore, unless the sender is merely trying to butter the recipient up -- which still wouldn't be a very positive omen -- the sender must possess the supernatural ability to foresee future events. And with Christmas and Hanukkah being times in which the Judeo-Christian interpretation of events largely hold sway, that kind of power is clearly marked as being demonic in nature. Therefore, this card contains a message of EVIL. And unless it's wearing a skintight black dress and smirking sexily while beckoning you to bed, evil is generally very scary stuff.
The 3rd SCARIEST 39¢ Christmas Card:
Awww, look at the cute reindeer! And indeed, the reindeer is pretty cute. What's so scary about this card, then? Look closer. Yes, the reindeer is cute. But is he happy? No. No, he's far from happy. Because he appears to be hiding. Hiding from what? Your guess is as good as mine, but it can't be good. And there's a cardinal next to him. Now, I wondered if the cardinal had something to do with the reindeer's fear. Admittedly, I'm not too up on holiday symbols, and despite the plethora of crafts items that came up when I googled "cardinal christmas", I don't think I've ever seen the bird in any prominent winter holiday displays before. A more refined search for "cardinal symbol christmas" provided an explanation for the presence of the bird:
Christened the Christmas bird for its spectacular red color, the Cardinal has become a symbol of the beauty and warmth of the holiday season. A glimpse of this brilliant bird brings cheer, hope and inspiration on a gray, wintry day.
Tell me, folks -- does that reindeer look cheerful, hopeful, or inspired to you? HELL NO. However, birds are known for bringing news. Given the position of the bird, it would not be unreasonable for us to assume that the bird is, at this very moment, whispering something in our frightened reindeer friend's ear. And whatever it is, it's scared our reindeer witless. The key to discerning the cardinal's message, of course, is in the sole word written on the cover: BELIEVE. Believe in what? It's Christmas, right? Believe in Jesus. Believe or a cardinal will alight next to your ear and describe the horrors of Hell to you in horrific detail. Like, way worse than the content of A Divine Revelation of Hell by Mary K. Baxter, which I read in part back when I worked at the bookstore and which features descriptions of charred skeletons walking about and coughing and vomiting (despite having no lungs or stomachs or esophagi) stinking piles of guts and maggots and shit. Way worse than that, I say, because that was actually pretty funny. Anyway, having discerned that the cover illustration features a cardinal whispering the unabridged version of Dante's Inferno into the ear of a terrified young reindeer, one opens the card to find the wonderfully simple and anticlimactic message to "have yourself a merry little Christmas." Whatever! Knowing what he now knows, that reindeer will never have another merry day for the rest of his life. Not even in Heaven, because God is the kind of being that visits tortures upon people that make living regurgitating scorched skeletons look funny in comparison. God is scary. And that makes Jesus scary. Which makes Christmas scary. And while "scary" does in deed rhyme with "merry", these words are not synonyms.
The 2nd SCARIEST 39¢ Christmas Card:
Until now, that fucked up tree on the fifth scariest card was the most apparently scary image we'd seen. Yet while the card above ranks second on my list, it's a very close second -- because as far as images go, this one is the most overtly terrifying of them all. It depicts a child staring out of the window at a car that may or may not have a driver inside. And there's something terribly wrong with this picture. Consider the second possibility -- that the car is without a driver. Why is the kid staring at it? Is the car driving down the road by itself? That would indeed be scary. Or has it stopped? And if it has stopped, who has gotten out of the car? Is the kid staring at the car itself, or the haggard, axe-wielding insane asylum escapee who is approaching the house while grunting and cackling with demented yet festive glee? We cannot know, because this card has no sound.
On the other hand, let us consider the possibility that there is, in fact, a driver in the car. Cars with drivers are hardly unusual, so again we must question the child's reason for staring at it. Perhaps the child, like myself, is very paranoid and highly sensitive to noise, and runs to the window every time a car is heard outside in order to assess the threat level and the actions that need to be taken to prepare for the potential arrival. This need not be scary in and of itself, but it is certainly possible to attribute feat to the boy in such a scenario -- thereby rendering this a very scary card from, at the very least, the boy's perspective. But the car appears to have stopped. If that is the case, we can either assume that the car has stopped because the driver intended to stop or because the car has broken down. If it has broken down, we can safely assume that the driver does not live at the boy's residence -- and, as such, if the driver lacks a cell phone, he/she will have to request to use the telephone inside the boy's home. Now, allowing strangers into one's home can be a very scary thing (especially if we assume that the boy's parents are not home), but this does not necessitate that there is any actual threat to the boy. Still, having one's car break down far from one's home on Christmas Eve (let's assume it's Christmas Eve) is a very unlucky thing, and many people's holiday fears involve similar circumstances. So perhaps it is the card's illustration of being separated from one's family on Christmas Eve that renders it scary to all of those who believe that the true spirit of Christmas concerns togetherness and hot cocoa, because it is almost certain that this boy will not share any of his hot cocoa with this stranded traveler. A glass of water, maybe. But no cocoa. And then, of course, there's always the possibility that the driver was, in fact, a haggard, axe-wielding insane asylum escapee who was on his way to murder some other bunch of poor slobs -- his family members, perhaps -- but, his car having broken down here, he'll have to settle for the little boy. Merry Christmas!
We haven't even considered the possibility that the car stopped on purpose yet! Let's do that now. Assuming that the car stopped on purpose, however, the very same scenario that we described above with the absent driver could similarly be posited -- only in this case, we would assume that the axe-wielding driver hasn't gotten out of the car yet. This kid can't catch a break, can he? The interior text, "Warmest Wishes for a Cheerful Holiday Season," affords no comfort. Why? Because its capitalization clearly designates it as a title of some sort -- not a genuine holiday message of good will -- and the only reason to write a title inside a holiday card is if that title is in some way joking or ironic. Here, I'm betting that the irony has something to do with the fact that spilled blood and entrails are quite warm. Moreover, people often associate the color red with cheer. Run, kid, run!
The SCARIEST (!!!) 39¢ Christmas Card:
And here we have the absolute scariest 39¢ Christmas card of all. And what makes this one so scary, you ask? Clearly, given the amount of text above, our second scariest card has far more potential for terror than any of the cards. However, while that is certainly true, this is the only card of the bunch in which the sender plainly suggests that the recipient will not live to see New Year's Day. Look. The cover reads, "Happy Holidays." Now, you can't tell from the scan, but the card is actually foil, and if you look at it in the right light you might imagine that the image has been wrought with construction paper and spilled blood. But that's not where the threat comes. No, that's on the inside. First, there's the mention of laughter and joyous surprises. So far, so good. Then we move to a less inherently positive mention of "special" memories. Consider that the only thing required to designate a memory as being "special" is the presence of a quality or qualities that markedly distinguish it from other memories. Your entire family could be massacred on Christmas Day and that would constitute a "special" memory. Hell, a trio of psychotic elves could beat you mercilessly, stab you multiple times, and urinate in your mouth on Christmas morning, and as you lay dying, coughing up piss and blood, your recollection of the events that led to your untimely demise would constitute a "special" memory.
Which brings us to the closing text of the card: "Happy Holiday." Happy holiday. Singular. That is, despite the mention of holidays on the cover -- those holidays being Christmas (or Hanukkah) and New Year's -- the text of the interior suggests that the recipient will only experience ONE holiday this year. Thus, we must assume that the sender is well aware that, in between that holiday and New Year's Day, some fatal accident is going to befall the recipient. What will it be? We cannot say! But we can say this: there is nothing more terrifying than a credible threat, especially during the winter holiday season. As such, this is the scariest 39¢ card of all.
Okay, so this one's not very scary at all. Although it's a bit too sweet in its kind wishes that its recipient receive "the very nicest things... every day throughout the year" -- and we've seen how that can be dangerous -- there's no perceptible undercurrent of malice here. The cursive script also fails to be threatening. So why is this on the honorable mention list? Well, as I was scanning the various rows and columns of Christmas cards at the 39¢ card store, this one caught my eye -- because at a glance, I mistook the ornaments for eyeballs. Try looking at the card while squinting. See? Eyeballs. Eyeballs on the Christmas tree. Pretty freaky, eh? Eh? EH? Alrighty.
The SCARY-CRAYON Christmas Card:
And finally, above, we have The Scary-Crayon Christmas Card, with Santa's evil elves returning to spread more holiday cheer and tangy lemonade. It's not very subtle, but then again, neither is the heavily commercial aspect with which the supposedly kindness and value-oriented holiday season has been infused. People may sing shit about joy to the world and whatnot, but really, daily existence during the winter holidays virtually consists of having handfuls of faux yellow snow shoved into your face in the form of endless advertisements and pronouncements that pretty much every product on every store shelf constitutes THE PERFECT GIFT FOR EVERYONE ON YOUR LIST! It's all bullshit, and Scary-Crayon's Christmas card reflects that through this overtly graphic use of metaphor. The elves are relentless and urinate in your mouth because that is exactly what a person experiences, figuratively speaking, during the Christmas season. So y'all have a merry one, mmmkay?