Christmas cards can mean much more than a warm festive wish.
Often behind the glitter, seasonal colours and striking card designs are moving and inspirational stories of the artists.
Here we share the incredible real lives behind four eye-catching Christmas cards.
Selfless courage behind my son’s card – Jasper
Neurokinex, charity which supports centres for people with spinal injuries
Catching the common childhood infection hand, foot and mouth disease in October 2014 at the age of two dramatically changed the life Jasper Thornton-Jones.
A rare complication of the virus enlarged his heart and, once he’d been rushed to hospital, caused a cardiac arrest.
Jasper’s mum Kate, 42, says: “It was every parent’s worst nightmare. I had a two-month-old son Elliott, and my eldest boy Jasper was in intensive care on an ECMO heart and lung machine. Doctors said things didn’t look good and he might need a heart transplant.
“But two weeks later, thanks to the incredible work of medics at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, Jasper was strong enough to be taken off the ECMO. Slowly his heart started working again but his legs did not move. A blood clot damaged his lower spinal cord and he was paralysed from the waist down.”
Jasper was transferred to Stanmore and Stoke Mandeville spinal care hospitals and was discharged in March 2015.
Kate, an antique jewellery specialist, painstakingly researched the best rehab treatments for her son and came across a professor who was doing research into spinal cord injuries. “He said if Jasper was his child, he’d go straight to the NeuroRecovery Network facility in Louisville. We flew there two months later.”
The NRN was set up by Superman actor Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana. The irony of little Jasper wanting to wear his favourite Superman outfit when he was in rehab was not lost on Kate.
The ground-breaking work in Louisville, Kentucky, is only available at a select few NRN affiliated sites in America. Kate stayed there for a year while art restorer husband Felix commuted back and forth from the UK.
In 2016 a new rehabilitation centre opened in Crawley, Sussex, the only affiliate outside the US to treat children. Christopher Reeve’s son Matthew asked Jasper to help cut the ribbon.
“We are so lucky to have such expertise close to home,” says Kate. “Neurokinex is a big and very special part of Jasper’s life. As well as making the physical therapy fun, they’ve given him a really positive outlook.
“Jasper doesn’t remember being able to walk and doesn’t rule out taking part in any games. At school he plays dodgeball because he regained his ability to crawl so dodges the ball by crawling and rolling.”
Now eight, Jasper spends a lot of his spare time fundraising for Neurokinex. He has taken part in triathlons to help raise money and also donates part of his weekly chore money.
Kate says: “Jasper put a huge effort into making his card. He’s delighted to know people are buying it because he knows it helps, even in a small way, to give something back to the rehab centre that has done so much for him.”
To buy Jasper’s card, visit: https://neurokinex.org/christmas-cards/
Drawing is my therapy – Kevin
Help For Heroes, which supports forces veterans like him
Army veteran Kevin Preston’s life changed when he joined a Help for Heroes’ art group eight years ago.
Support and camaraderie from fellow vets helped him cope with long-term injuries and boosted his confidence.
Kevin, 57, says: “I was struggling but never complained much. I just got on with things because I was too proud to ask for help.
“So when I joined the art group, I enjoyed banter with the other lads and they inspired me. Many have been through so much worse than me and seeing how they cope with their injuries drove me forward.
“They took more interest in my work than anyone else and gave me the confidence to show my art. They’ll never know how much a chat, a cup of tea and sharing our stories has helped me.”
Married dad of one Kevin injured his back while serving with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards in Northern Ireland. He endured four spinal operations and a stroke and left the military after four years in 1984.
Art was an important part of his recovery. “I find drawing really relaxing, and I love seeing someone’s face when they like something I’ve created. When our soldiers were serving in Afghanistan, I drew their portraits from photographs and sent them to their families just because I wanted to do something to help.”
Kevin’s work has been shown in exhibitions around the country and he will soon start painting a giant mural of Royal Marine triple amputee, and Pride of Britain winner, Mark Ormrod in their home town of Plymouth.
Having his design picked as a Help the Heroes Christmas card has been a big honour for Kevin. He says: “It’s given me such a boost. I felt having Santa on mute during a zoom call, when his reindeers were creating chaos and had carrots instead of Apple computers, brought the fun out of the horrible coronavirus situation.
“I hope it helps Help the Heroes because they have helped me enormously.”
I spend six weeks on each mouth painting – Rosie
Mouth and Foot Painting Artists charity
The intricate swirls of the Christmas tree in vibrant rainbow colours would stand out on any mantlepiece. Knowing the artist painted it holding a brush in their mouth makes it all the more impressive.
Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds spent six weeks perfecting the design. She was born without arms or legs due to Thalidomide and devotes much of her time to creating stunning artworks in her Cardiff home.
Rosie, 61, is the only Welsh member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA), a global community of artists who through accident, illness or disability have learned to create artwork by using their mouth or their feet.
She says: “I hold the brush using my front and back teeth to keep it steady so it doesn’t go too far down my throat. I stand very close to the easel so sometimes feel I put too much detail in. Maybe that makes the designs even more interesting.
“I need help to put the paint in the pallet, and I’m constantly controlling dribbling. But painting makes all the stresses of each day disappear because I focus fully on it.”
Millions of MFPA cards are sold across the world each year and proceeds from sales help the artists’ cost of living. Only a select few designs are turned in to cards and then sold in 78 countries.
Married mum of one Rosie, who was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2015 New Years Honours List for services to the equality and rights of disabled people, says: “I put a lot of work into this card because having a design picked for a card is very competitive. Being chosen has given me such a buzz.
“Knowing that people like my designs, and they’re helping disabled artists live independently, is a wonderful feeling.”
A tribute to my grandad
Leslie, Help for Heroes
An easel had a permanent place in Leslie Savage’s living room as he spent many evenings painting landscapes and illustrating catalogues.
His granddaughter Julie Smith, 44, inherited much of his artwork when Leslie died in 1988. Keen to see his active service with the Territorial Army during the Second World War in Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East recognised and his stunning art shared, Julie submitted Leslie’s 1950s Christmas designs to the Help the Heroes Christmas card competition.
The armed forces and veterans charity jumped at the chance of using them in this year’s Christmas card range.
Julie, from Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, says: “My mother Jacqueline fondly remembers the nights Leslie spent bending over a drawing board and the smell of the ink. His evening work supplemented his salary from Staffordshire County Council and enabled the family to go on holiday.
“Grandad was such a good artist but very modest and never made any fuss about his work. Both my grandparents would no doubt have been surprised but thrilled to see his Christmas card designs used to help wounded veterans and their families.”