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Snapshot in Time: Mele Kalikimaka

 Sally Budge

A collection of 20 colorful hand-drawn Christmas cards is scattered across a desk.

The act of giving Christmas Cards dates back to 1843 England. Sir Henry Cole, the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, came up with the idea as a way to deal with an overwhelming amount of mail. Being ever the gentleman, he followed the rule of etiquette that it was only polite to answer all your mail. With so much mail to answer, he came up with the idea of having one card printed that he could then sign and send to everyone needing return correspondence. He had a friend, J.C. Horsley, illustrate a card and then had a thousand copies printed and sent off. Because Britain had created the “Penny Post,” which allowed all to send mail rather cheaply, the idea took off. However, it took a couple more decades for the idea to catch on in America, and the first Christmas card was created in 1875 by Louis Prang in the States. (Source: “The History of the Christmas Card” by John Hanc, Smithsonian Magazine)

As we know, the tradition continues today as the influx of mail always increases around this season and cards are received from loved ones near and far. December 9 is Christmas Card Day, and to celebrate we want to share this beautiful collection of Christmas cards from our sisters who served in Hawaii. These cards that span the 1970s and ‘80s and into the early ‘90s are kept in the Carondelet Consolidated Archives in St. Louis along with the graphics and clip art used to create the cards. These are the sisters’ original designs. While not all have names or signatures on them, a few do. Both Sister Joan Spalding and Sister Mary Carmel Hare created a few.

A few of the cards are created with images that invoke the scenery of Hawaii, reminiscent of warm beaches and the sound of the surf.

Three hand-drawn Christmas cards with beach themes

Some are just beautiful works of art that bring out the beauty and meaning behind this special time of year in their simplicity.

Six hand-drawn Christmas cards with Mary and the infant Jesus or the Risen Christ
The cards in the top right and bottom left were designed by Mary Carmel Hare, CSJ.

The majority of the cards, however, combine the message of the season with the traditions and artwork of the Islands.

The card in the top middle was designed by Joan Spalding, CSJ.

Here are two examples that tie in the beauty and traditions of the Hawaiian Islands and the meaning of this Christmas season.

The first card brings in the traditional Tapa artwork, which ties in symbols and meanings.

The front of a hand-drawn card features an orange sunburst surrounded by a variety of brown shapes
A handwritten legend for the Tapa Symbols used in the card design include triangles for the 12 tribes of Israel, three squiggly lines for water in the desert, dots for manna, a jagged line for the journey in the desert and intricate shapes for the joys and tribulations of the Israelites from Exodus to Annunciation

And the second illustrates the story of the Three Kahilis that represent the Three Wisemen.

A drawing in brown ink depicts three kahils representing the three wise men
The inside of the card reads:
Translation: Ua hanau is ka moi….A King is born.
Ka mea nana e ha’awi i ke ola….who gives us life

Explanation: The kahilis are symbols of royalty and represent the Three Wisemen who brought special gifts to the Greatest of Kings. In the center of each kahili is a gift of the land representing life and beauty—God’s gift to His people. The Christmas star encircles each gift and points to the One they are bring offered to—Jesus.

Gifts: First kahili: the ulu or bread fruit represents the Bread of Life; Second kahili: the hibiscus represents the beauty of the land, an expression of the hearts of the people; Third kahili: a fruit, the pineapple, represents a source of life and beauty.

The card is dated 1979.

As you send out your Christmas cards this year, we hope that you remember these beautiful cards and the sisters who created and sent them.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Category: Stories

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About us

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are a congregation of Catholic sisters. We, and those who share our charism and mission, are motivated in all things by our profound love of God and our dear neighbors. We seek to build communities and bridge divides between people. Since our first sisters gathered in 1650, our members have been called to “do all things of which women are capable.” The first sisters of our congregation arrived in St. Louis, Missouri in 1836, and we now have additional locations in St. Paul, Albany, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Japan and Peru. Today, we commit to respond boldly to injustice and dare to be prophetic.


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