You've seen the runners-up. They were all worthy. In an ordinary year, any one of them could have won. But this was no ordinary year.
Two works stood head and shoulders above all others for their towering bleakness and uncompromising refusal to even pretend to acknowledge the existence of the spirit of the season. When it came time to choose between them, even the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family could not find a rationale for choosing one above the other.
The adventure began with Sam Jordan's conceptual deconstruction of the traditional Christmas card. That's it immediately above.
Long term readers of this blog may remember Sam as last year's winner of the Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year competition. Which victory was achieved by writing a threatening seasonal note on a meat cleaver, burying the cleaver in a bloody turnip and then leaving the whole on the back porch in the dead of night. It was truly a breathtaking piece of work.
Mr. Jordan's submission this year was a genuine work of conceptual performance art. As the accompanying note says, "The Card is INSIDE the Ornaments." The accompanying hammer, complete with festive bow, implied that there was an obvious way to read the card.
One could, of course, employ tweezers. But to do so would be to show the white feather. So...
The hammer was raised.
It must be said that there is something exhilarating about deliberately smashing a Christmas ornament. It explodes beautifully. It is an act of vandalism akin, one imagines, to flinging a stone through a stained glass window.
This is the first season's greetings I've ever received that made me feel complicit.
Inside the ornament was the message: This "card" represents the last of my creative ability as the depression tightens it's (sic) grip.
The solecism, it must be said, did nothing to lessen Sam's chance of winning.
So... you may well ask... What could possibly offer any competition to so remarkable an effort?
The seasonal card from Judith and John Clute is always an event because Judith Clute is a serious artist (you can find her web page here) and the card is a serious work of art.
Serious, it goes without saying, does not necessarily mean joyful.
The title for the original etching that became the card is 2666, which clearly refers to Roberto Bolaño's novel of the same name. Which, you will recall, involved an unsolved series of murders of women, the miseries of the Eastern Front in WWII, academia, mental illness, and other such matters.
A familiarity with the book is not necessary to recognize that Ms Clute's work is dark indeed. The woman in the center looks happy and confident -- clearly, she's got it all together. But darkness impinges upon her from either side, with images of death, war, and suffering.
As one member of the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family put it, this is a picture that says: No matter how happy you may be, the common fate of all is death --- death in the past, death in the future, death everywhere.
From a lesser work of art, this would be easily dismissed. But Judith Clute is, as has been said, a real artist.
For a very long time, the debate went back and forth. Could Sam Jordan's conceptual piece be disqualified as an obvious attempt to win the Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year competition? No, it was decided. What could be more godless and atheistic than wanting to win such a competition?
Could, then, Clute's card be downgraded for being aloof from the entire competition? Also, no. Its sincerity had to considered an asset.
For the first time ever, the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family was deadlocked. Nobody could bring him or herself to vote either way.
And then... And then...
And then, a Christmas miracle happened! One of us moodily smashed another of Mr. Jordan's ornaments:
And it contained a message saying: May this ornament find you in good health for years to come!
"Christmas," somebody gaped, "is saved."
With a palpable feeling of relief, the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family declared that this warm message of good will moved Sam's offering one degree off of negative zero. It was declared first through tenth runner-up.
And the title of Godless Atheist Christmas Card of 2018 went to Judith Clute's 2666.
But it was a squeaker.
And for the second time in a row . . .
I have to apologize for being a day late with this post. I had it half-written when a certain family swept me away to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. By the time we'd watched and discussed it, built a fire in the wood stove, mixed Manhattans, and settled down to dinner, I had forgotten my obligations entirely.
For which I am sincerely sorry. The movie was good, though. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the superhero genre.
Would it be a spoiler if I told you that Spider-Man dies? Okay, then, forget I said anything.