It all started with a wooden crocodile, as is so often the case.
I’ve always liked crocodiles, so when I came across a neatly tied up, wooden one, it was the obvious thing to have to add some sparkle to the Christmas decorations. It looked somewhat lonely by itself on the Christmas tree, so over the following years I managed to track down a few more to keep it company. But it still looked lonely. By that stage, whoever had initially made them had given up, so I set to, with some thin plywood, a fret saw and paint, and a few hours later I had a whole family of them taking pride of place in the front window.
However fond you are of crocodiles, you can have too much of a good thing, which left me wondering what other animals might adorn a future Christmas tree. Most seemed too cute, especially the traditional, fluffed-up robins, until I came across a fascinating Victorian superstition and greeting card tradition. At the end of the nineteenth century, seeing a dead bird was considered a harbinger of luck, in much the same way that we now think it’s lucky if a black cat crosses your path. (I presume it’s doubly lucky if the aforesaid black cat is carrying a bird it’s recently killed.)
This belief resulted in a craze for greeting cards depicting dead birds that lasted from 1880 until the end of the century, which included wonderful examples, like the one below.
It wasn’t just their depiction on Christmas Cards that was meant to bring luck. There was an associated tradition of killing a robin or a wren on 26th December; a custom still known as Wren Day in Ireland.
Macabre though the idea may seem today, our next Christmas saw the crocodiles joined by dead robins, which seemed particularly fitting, as we live in a Victorian house.
At which point, it felt that these could be more than just ornaments for our tree, but expand into Christmas cards in their own right, so that others could appreciate the festive appeal of local wildlife. But after crocodiles and dead robins, what other animals needed reinventing for Christmas?
Like the dead robin, I felt that it should be another forgotten, or ignored animal. So, what better than the Christmas Slug?
And as the ornaments were now making an appearance as part of a Christmas Card to keep and cherish, it was only fitting that I should follow the tradition and accompany the subject matter with a cheesy Christmas rhyme. So…
See, amidst the winter’s snow,
Nestling in the earth below;
Munching through the bulbs and roots,
Dreaming of the springtime shoots;
Filled with goodness, trailing slime,
Blessed be thy Christmas time.
Fast forward to 2022, and with three hundred and sixty-five days to think of what came next, time was running short. Fortunately, around day 360, inspiration finally arrived, complete with a back-story:
The Christmas Tree Chameleon (chamaeleonidae noellus) was first discovered in the rainforest department of Harvey Nichols (4th floor) in 2020. Uniquely amongst chameleons, it is capable of hibernation, making it difficult to distinguish from other tree ornaments. Experts generally agree that the most reliable method of identification is the lack of a CE label. To cope with its environment, it has developed a rough skin on one side to protect it from sharp pine needles, displaying unimelanophory, where only the side facing away from the tree changes colour to camouflage the reptile. This has been encouraged by the lack of predators in most Christmas trees. However, since the resumption of January sales following the end of Covid lockdowns, the Christmas Tree Chameleon has been put on the IUCN list of critically endangered species.
Removing the chameleon from the card provided an extra opportunity for fun, revealing the closely related Christmas Card Chameleon (chamaeleonidae hallmarkiensis), demonstrating its amazing camouflage capability.
That’s it for 2022. I hope you had a happy Christmas and lots of serendipitous festive animals. Here’s hoping for further inspiration in 2023.