David Saint

Dec 16, 2020, 10:43 AM

The post of Christmas past

This year, as families and friends are forced to rethink Christmas, I’m pleased that we can uphold one of my favourite traditions: the Action Planning Christmas card.

We send out around 400 cards every year, to friends and clients past, present and (we hope) future, and they have become something of a talking point. Indeed, this year I’ve had two people saying they are looking forward to receiving their card, because they enjoyed previous ones so much! We may have created a rod for our own backs.

Thanks to the artistic brilliance of cartoonist Harry Venning and a little bit of lighthearted creativity on our part, we have produced our own unique Christmas cards since the very dawn of Action Planning, 30 years ago. So as we come to the end of our 30th anniversary year, it seems a good time to take a look back at some of our favourites.

The big news in 2017 was GDPR. Remember? This card resonated with a lot of organisations trying to learn all that stuff about data protection and opting in and consent. I love the expressions Harry Venning has captured in this one – a familiar mixture of irritation and bafflement!

If you think there’s something familiar about Harry’s style, there’s every chance you’ve seen his work elsewhere. He draws for the Guardian and is the creator of the cartoon strip Clare in the Community, which also became a Radio 4 comedy show. We’re very privileged to have him on board as the illustration is crucial.

Red tape is a favourite target of ours and we’re clearly not alone. Going back a further 10 years, this card from 2007 took the subject of petty bureaucracy to its ultimate end.

When choosing the idea for our Christmas card, I always set myself two criteria: there must be a strong link with the real Christmas story, as well as a strong link to the kind of work we do and/or something topical. These criteria need joining up and I’ve always found that humour seems the best way to do that. Plus people enjoy it!

I have to admit that I haven’t kept a record of which card went out in which year, so going back more than a couple of years requires a certain amount of guess work, unless there’s a clue in the card itself. I know this one is from 2015 because that was the year of ITV’s Text Santa Christmas Jumper Appeal, to which we made our customary Christmas donation.

This card could have been from any time in the last four years, couldn’t it? But I remember this was 2018, as the original Brexit deadline loomed. Funnily enough, by the following Christmas the situation hadn’t changed, so this was our card for 2019.

If a joke’s worth telling, it’s worth telling twice! This next one, I think, is from 2008 but again the idea hasn’t dated. The thought of Jesus being given a charity gift of goats in Africa, rather than the traditional gold, frankincense and myrrh, made me chuckle.

There are certain aspects of Harry’s cartoons that make me smile without having to see the joke. I’ve mentioned his knack for facial expressions; another is his penchant for comic looking sheep. The one in the foreground of this card is my favourite. That toothy grin is infectious. You don’t even have to like the joke about “measurable outcomes” to find this card amusing. That sheep carries it off all by itself.

And so we come to this year’s card. How could it be anything else other than Covid and Zoom? In counterpoint to the joke, those words from the gospel of Luke serve as a timely reminder that there is always hope, even in the darkest hour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little retrospective and are looking forward to Christmas, in whatever way you’re able to celebrate it this year.