John Waters Makes Handmade Christmas Cards, Says the “Whole Purpose of Life is Christmas”


Awk­ward as it feels to receive Christ­mas cards from peo­ple we don’t real­ly know, who among us would turn one down from the one and only John Waters? Then again, the direc­tor of such land­marks in delib­er­ate­ly taste-free cin­e­ma as Pink Flamin­gos and Female Trou­ble would pre­sum­ably delight in inject­ing a lit­tle aes­thet­ic dis­com­fort into our hol­i­day rou­tines. Waters, accord­ing to a New York Times Q&A about his tak­ing on the road “A John Waters Christ­mas,” his “staged mono­logue about all things mer­ry and dark,” has made and sent out his own inim­itable Christ­mas cards for almost fifty years. “I start­ed doing it in high school in 1964,” he explains. “I send out over 2,000 cards by now. Basi­cal­ly, I’m chan­nel­ing Pia Zado­ra, who used to send out the best pricey hol­i­day-relat­ed object to help spread her name and make it last all year.” His 2006 card above bears a gen­uine mugshot from the police depart­ment of Waters’ beloved Bal­ti­more; oth­er images have includ­ed a dra­mat­ic 1940s scene of Christ­mas ruined by a crim­i­nal San­ta, indie-film act­ing icon Steve Busce­mi made up con­vinc­ing­ly as Waters, and Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor shaven-head­ed after brain surgery. One year, he even attached a tree orna­ment con­tain­ing a dead cock­roach.


“Being a tra­di­tion­al­ist, I’m a rabid suck­er for Christ­mas,” Waters explains in his essay “Why I Love Christ­mas.” “Novem­ber 1 kicks off the jubilee of con­sumerism, and I’m so rid­dled with the hol­i­days sea­son that the mere men­tion of a stock­ing stuffer sex­u­al­ly arous­es me.” Pre­hol­i­day activ­i­ties he con­sid­ers “the fore­play of Christ­mas,” and nat­u­ral­ly, “Christ­mas cards are your first duty and you must send one (with a per­son­al, hand­writ­ten mes­sage) to every sin­gle per­son you ever met, no mat­ter how briefly.” And of course, “you must make your own cards by hand. ‘I don’t have time’ you may whine, but since the whole pur­pose of life is Christ­mas, you’d bet­ter make time, buster.” Waters has also assem­bled his very own Christ­mas album, fea­tur­ing a vari­ety of hol­i­day songs per­formed by Tiny Tim, Stormy Weath­er, and even Alvin and the Chip­munks. The selec­tion below, “First Snow­fall” by the Coc­tails, uses the clas­si­cal­ly kitschy singing saw as a lead:

You may well hear it again if you hap­pen to attend Waters’ own annu­al Christ­mas par­ty in Bal­ti­more, a tra­di­tion he’s kept up for near­ly as long as he’s sent out the cards. “Every­one comes, from the may­or to Pat Sajak to a judge and a well-known crim­i­nal I helped get out of jail,” as he describes it to the Times.” There’s a bar on every floor of the house and a buf­fet table where you’ll see the guy that played the singing anus in Pink Flamin­gos stand­ing next to the gov­er­nor.” For­get the cards; I need an invi­ta­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Grow­ing Up John Waters: The Odd­ball Film­mak­er Cat­a­logues His Many For­ma­tive Rebel­lions (1993)

An Anti, Anti-Smok­ing Announce­ment from John Waters

John Waters: The Point of Con­tem­po­rary Art

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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