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John Harris introduces an exhibition gathered from the long history of leftwing Christmas cards

Forget nativity scenes – John Harris introduces an exhibition gathered from the long history of leftwing Christmas cards

As far as the consumerist mainstream goes, the imagery of Christmas cards seems to have endured for aeons: snow-caked Dickensian townscapes; soft-focus scenes from the nativity; domestic pets cruelly forced to wear Santa hats. But thankfully, there is another tradition, with a lot more oomph: that of leftwing Christmas cards, which have been sent and received for longer than you might think. For sure, the idea of dispensing seasonal greetings from a radical perspective reached a peak in the bleak 1980s, when cards featuring missiles, pickets and Margaret Thatcher were being produced by the sackload – but long before, the idea of emphasising the struggle in a yuletide kind of way had been established by early socialists, Suffragettes, and many more.

This overlooked bit of our history is the subject of an exhibition put together by Llew Smith, 66, one-time MP for the Welsh Labour heartland of Blaenau Gwent, and his late wife Pam. "It all came about by accident," he says. "For 25 years, we'd get Christmas cards from comrades, and after a while, we decided to keep them, and file them away.

"Then, towards the end of my time in parliament, we began to research the whole idea of political Christmas cards. Think about people's political lives: banners, protest songs, poems, leaflets and posters have been documented, but there's a gap when it comes to Christmas cards. We wanted to rectify that."

The result is an amazing representation of the left's history, focused on more than 500 cards, many of them sourced from museums, university archives and eBay. They go from the 19th century right up to the Con-Dem era. "One of the early designers of Christmas cards described them as 'unconsidered trifles'," says Smith. "I'd rather they actually had a message."

Politics, Protest and the Christmas Card is at the People's History Museum, Manchester, from December 4 to January 6. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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