John Waters’ Hand-Made, Oddball Christmas Cards: 1964-Present

Ten years ago, we fea­tured John Waters’ hand­made Christ­mas cards, which he’s been mak­ing since he was a high-school stu­dent in 1964, long before William S. Bur­roughs deemed him the “Pope of Trash” (also the title of a ret­ro­spec­tive exhi­bi­tion at the Acad­e­my of Motion Pic­tures in Los Ange­les this past fall). It was Waters’ films that qual­i­fied him for that hon­or, of course, but his reg­u­lar sea­son’s greet­ings are no less a medi­um for his career-long artis­tic recla­ma­tion of bad taste. Christ­mas cards also have the advan­tage of being even more “under­ground” than his ear­ly fea­tures, direct­ed as they are to only a select group of recip­i­ents, large though Waters’ mail­ing list has grown in recent decades: he men­tioned to the New York Times that he sends out over 2,000 cards, and that was back in 2013.

“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,” Waters wrote in a 1980s essay: “Give Me Anoth­er Present! Why I Love Christ­mas”. “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.”

As you can see at this gallery and this recent Twit­ter thread, Waters has made the time: the time to get his mugshot tak­en by the Bal­ti­more Police Depart­ment, to stuff dead cock­roach­es into tree orna­ments, to com­mis­sion a paint­ing of him­self as a pipe-smok­ing patri­arch (with a Divine-look­ing wife) pre­sid­ing over an askew nine­teen-fifties Christ­mas morn­ing, and, last year, to pro­duce blow-up dolls in his own like­ness.

In the decade since we last looked at them, Waters’ Christ­mas cards have also depict­ed him putting an eye out with a can­dy cane, feast­ing on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer, and decked out in Christ­mas-thug regalia, com­plete with tat­toos promis­ing “chim­ney inva­sions” and “sea­son’s beat­ings.” This Christ­mas, Waters opt­ed for a more tech­ni­cal com­plex­i­ty, appear­ing as a dis­tressed tod­dler in the lap of a depart­ment-store San­ta (a fair­ly com­mon fifties tableau, I gath­er) who, as a sep­a­rate com­po­nent attached by some kind of spring, flails wild­ly when flicked. Fans who haven’t received one of their own can at least con­sole them­selves with the prospect of Waters’ next film, which will be his first in twen­ty years — and bring to the screen Waters’ own nov­el Liar­mouth, which more than a few of them prob­a­bly found in their stock­ings last Christ­mas. See a gallery of his Christ­mas cards here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

When Sal­vador Dalí Cre­at­ed Christ­mas Cards That Were Too Avant Garde for Hall­mark (1960)

Watch Ter­ry Gilliam’s Ani­mat­ed Short, The Christ­mas Card (1968)

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

Andy Warhol’s Christ­mas Art

John Waters Designs a Wit­ty Poster for the New York Film Fes­ti­val

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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