Two days before Christmas, I have received a grand total of two Christmas cards this year. One displays a dog wearing a Santa hat, while the other pictures a cow wearing a Santa hat on the front. There appears to be a theme going on.
Apparently in Victorian times, there was a much more sinister animal themed Christmas card – the one depicting a dead bird.
There appears to be a few suggested reasons for this. There’s a famous quotation from the Venerable Bede about a sparrow flying through the hall of a castle while the nobility is celebrating Christmas: The moment from when it enters until it flies out is very brief, a metaphor for how quickly our lives pass.
Hunter Oatman-Stanford at Collectors Weekly noted that the birds are often robins and wrens, and that “killing a wren or robin was once a good-luck ritual performed in late December.” Specifically, the Irish St. Stephen’s Day on December 26 is known as “Wren Day,” with a traditional hunt of the bird.
The image of a dead bird in the snow is similar to the popular “Babe in the Woods” motif of children who are in their mortal sleep in the forest, and may have likewise been a call to empathy for the less fortunate.
I think it’s just a bit weird.