It's that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, debate on whether to put an angel or a star on top of your tree, and hang your stockings while waiting for Santa Claus.
To get you in the mood, here are our picks for the top ten Christmas magazine covers. These covers were selected strictly on the basis of aesthetic, while excluding criteria such as cultural/historical significance, although some of them do have a broader historical context, which I'll explain as we go along.
Let's get started!
10.) The Cosmopolitan - Christmas, 1904
The caption at bottom might be a bit lengthy and preachy, (although it's still a very good message,) but it complements the image by assimilating itself as part of it, through subtle positioning, as well as typography. The image itself is stunning in its dramatic portrayal of the famous Biblical scene where an angel tells one of the Three Wise Men that Jesus is about to be born.
The caption, which talks about open mindedness being a catalyst for progress, very subtly complements the image by symbolically hinting at the Wise Man being open to the angel's message of hope.
9.) Century Magazine - Christmas, 1920
This cover, which depicts a romantic relationship unfolding under the mistletoe, is very well-executed in its composition. The wreath and holly around the image frames the main subjects, as well as the typography, very nicely, and the red berries and ribbons add a festive touch that clearly spell out Christmas.
Aside from the design aspects of this cover, the main image itself is a scene that most of us can relate to, and, even if we don't, it's a nice reminder of the importance of love and family at this time of year.
8.) Leslie's Weekly - December 22, 1917
Norman Rockwell was a true master of expression, and this early magazine cover is a perfect example of that. The Americans had just gotten involved in World War I that April, so by this time there were many American soldiers fighting in France. Any one of these soldiers would have been enormously grateful had they been sent provisions for Christmas that year, and the caption ("They remembered me!") clearly says it all. The look of sheer joy and gratitude on this young man's face caps it all off as a delightful graphic depiction of the joy of gift giving--an important part of Christmas festivities in war time and peace time.
7.) Leslie's Weekly - December 1, 1917
This cover was painted by James Montgomery Flagg, (one of my personal favorites,) and although it might appear somewhat biased, I think it's an apropos acknowledgment (for its time) of the contributions women made in the war effort, at a time when active military service was exclusively male. Think of it as another Rosie the Riveter, only this one is knitting a sweater for some lucky soldier who would surely freeze to death if he didn't have it.
From a design perspective, one of the things I like best about this cover is how the designer didn't limit him/herself to strictly Christmas colors, but instead used a magenta color for some of the typography. And, as an analogous color scheme, (which uses colors right next to each other on the color wheel,) it works perfectly!
6.) Collier's Illustrated Weekly - December 20, 1902
Many Christmas illustrations of this time period tended towards nostalgia for the time when Christmas as we know it first came about. Prince Albert's distinctly German contributions to the holiday during Queen Victoria's reign, as well as Dickens's Christmas Carol, both took place around the 1830s-40s, and you'll find that a lot of these covers attempt to recreate that traditional feeling. (Number 9 above also depicts that time period, but not as lavishly as this one.)
Frank Xavier Leyendecker, (not to be confused with Joseph Christian Leyendecker, of Arrow Collar Man fame,) has a very similar style to his brother's, (which makes sense, considering that, for much of their careers, they lived and worked together.) In this illustration, one can clearly see the richly detailed and brightly colored style that was so typical of the Leyendeckers, but, if not for the signature, one could almost not even tell whose was whose--unless you had the discerning eye of the expert, that is.
5.) Leslie's Weekly - December 7, 1918
This delicate arrangement of a wreath around the Blue Star Service Banner is a tender, heartfelt reminder of all those brave young men who, having made the ultimate sacrifice, would not be spending any more Christmases with their families.
Whereas number 9 above is also a reminder of the importance of family, this is even more poignantly so, as it subtly nudges us to always appreciate our loved ones while we're still together, since our tomorrows are never a given.
4.) Life Magazine - December 2, 1909
C. Coles Philips' trademark was his use of negative space to subtly outline his figures while their colors are blended in with the backdrop, and this cover is no exception. What's particularly brilliant here is how a simple Christmas activity, (in this case, sending Christmas cards,) could be worked into such a masterful composition. The green on the mailbox adds a splash of color to balance everything out beautifully.
3.) The Bohemian Magazine - Christmas, 1908
The color combination on this one are about what you would expect from a Christmas cover, (red and green,) but the use of a pale yellow throughout the backdrop is very inventive, and just as in number 7 above, a color that is still used effectively even though it's not considered part of the Christmas color palette. I would have put this at number 1, except for the poorly drawn expression on the Santa Claus. It looks like he's either crying, drunk, freezing to death, or a combination of all three. Certainly not the jolly, laughing expression we're used to seeing on Jolly Ol' Saint Nick!
2.) The American Magazine - Christmas, 1932
While this cover is decidedly modern, it still depicts a regular Christmas activity in a warm, festive way that evokes tradition in the subtlest of ways. The rich, gold color of the background evokes a kind of warmth and almost hints at the possibility that she is decorating while a fire is crackling within the chimney.
I might be a bit biased, but it's that warmth that reminds me of Christmases during my childhood. Warm, glowing light and majestic decorations paired with the soft sound of traditional Christmas carols... Ahh, the memories...
1.) Life Magazine - December 23, 1926
I'm not entirely sure what this image is trying to communicate, but I can't help but be drawn to its bold uses of color and typography, as well as its blending of old time tradition (as in the typeface used for the word Christmas at bottom,) with modern sophistication and style (as in the woman's dress and high heels.) There is so much vibrant color and energy around this image, which is very evocative of the extravagant, fast-paced 1920s, but its subtle nod to tradition makes a true statement without compromising on its modernity.
Also, I very much appreciate any uses of colors that don't fit the Christmas color palette, while not clashing with Christmas colors that are already there. (Notice a pattern, anyone?) The pink dress the woman is wearing is yet another example of what I'm talking about.
Do you agree with our picks? Please tell us about your favorite Christmas cover in the comments section, or email it to us at email@example.com.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Dominion Graphic Arts!
(All covers are from magazineart.org)