Jolly Snowmen, holly wreaths, fat-breasted robins; the usual Christmas card imagery is all a bit too pleasant isn't it? Too disappointingly feelgood to make anyone choke on their eggnog in shock. However, those intent on causing offence should fear not, because there are plenty of crass, discriminatory, ageist and sexist cards on the shelves.
One such seasonal missive has just been removed from Tesco. It depicts a red-headed child sat on Santa's knee and the caption "Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones." The supermarket agreed to stop stocking the card after a mother of three red-haired children complained, saying that, "it's discrimination pure and simple." She's got a point, one that the American comedian Reginald D Hunter has picked up on in the past when he quipped that, "Britain has racism, it's just not very good at it. Ginger-haired people, that ain't even a race and y'all lay into them." Why is mocking people with ginger hair deemed a social acceptable prejudice, not to mention redolent of seasonal goodwill?
However, it's by no means just the red-haired who might find that their Christmas, New Year, or indeed birthday message is an insensitive one. Crude cards for every occasion – ranging from the truly offensive to the pointlessly profane – are strangely popular. For years, the likes of Hallmark and WHSmith were dominated by such saccharine characters as Forever Friends – those doughy-faced bears with love-lorn, lobotomised expressions – and floral cards making excessive use of the word special.
Now, however, looking for a funny, sophisticated card amidst the lads mag-like offerings in many party shops is like trying to find a searching article on unequal gender pay in Nuts or Zoo. Here's a little browse through some of the charming designs for different occasions on offer in Hallmark. First up, an image of an underwear-clad women's torso and the words, "what do you call a babe who does anything you want?" The hilarious answer inside? "Inflatable."
But if young "lovelies" are insufficiently devoted to the pursuit of male satisfaction, then according to the lascivious greetings card universe, elderly women – you know, the ones "ladz" don't want to shag – are apparently all randy old goats. Take a typical design that shows two women in glasses and chintzy frocks with the caption, "Agnes and Sue weren't maths wizards, but it didn't take them long to figure out how many people they needed for a threesome."
Britain might have a tradition of saucy postcards, typified by Donald McGill's ample-bottomed women at the seaside, but they can surely only be appreciated now as historical artefacts. The perpetuation of simplistic, outdated stereotypes and aggressive so-called humour is particularly depressing at Christmas, while the dispiriting trend for cards where the humour seems to revolve around substituting festive greetings with swearing (there's a card on sale that simple says "Fuck off and die. Oh Sorry I mean Happy Christmas") just underlines the British inability to be sincere or emotionally honest.
The constant stream of irony, or in this case aggressive profanity, that informs modern culture can be exhaustingly cynical. Give me a saccharine picture of a sledging polar bear over a provocative card with less wit than a cheap cracker joke any day.