Jean Shepherd, “Christmas Cards”

Last year, I shared a few Christmas-themed Jean Shepherd shows as part of my Holiday Triumphs (the counterpart to my Holiday Horrors). If you don’t know who Jean Shepherd is or my continued obsession with him, check this out. I’ll wait here.

Back with us? So, despite sharing several of his Yuletide stories with you last year, this one eluded me, perhaps because it’s not really a story at all. It’s a show from Christmas Eve, 1964, in which he talks about trends in Christmas cards, comparing ancient cards he has to the cards he received for this holiday. His basic premise, one he often hammered on in his shows: “I submit that you will find more about a public in its attitudes toward its great rites, whatever they might be, than in any amount of pious editorials.”

It’s fascinating to listen to this show from nearly 50 years ago and hear what has changed since then, and how little hasn’t, and to get a glimpse of how Christmas cards reflect each era in which they were produced. If you listen to his descriptions of the Christmas cards he received just prior to this show, you can hear the faint echoes of the cynicism and delusion of the decade to come. Especially as the show closes, when Shepherd relates a very dark conversation he had with a junior high-aged kid about his view of the universe.

As you listen to what this kid says, keep in mind that even The Beatles had barely happened at this point in history. The 1960s weren’t quite yet “The Sixties,” but Shep was adept at recognizing a faint note of something in the air that had eluded everyone else so far. (A straw in the wind, he used to call it.)

It’s one of Shepherd’s more philosophical entries (as opposed to his “I was this kid, see…” tales). The audio picks up mid-show, and the sound quality is not fantastic, but I think you will enjoy it nonetheless. Yes, you. Don’t look at me like that.

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