Native to the grassy steppes of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the partridge was introduced to the New World in 1889 and again in the 1900s. An intermediate-sized game bird, it is famed for its reference in the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which was likely adapted from a French song. In the lyrics the bird spends its time in a pear tree, though this is widely suspected to be the result of a corruption of the French perdrix, which refers to a red-legged French partridge rather than the common gray partridge that nests and eats on the ground.
Despite this factual disconnect, partridges and many other birds remain important symbols throughout the holiday season in many cultures. Given their ability to take flight, they are seen by many to represent freedom and perspective, and to act as messengers between the spiritual and mortal worlds. More specifically, doves are often used to symbolize peace, and are widely seen during the holidays.
Read below for the stories behind some of our favorite avian-themed holiday cards.
Featuring an image of a partridge in a pear tree borrowed from “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” this striking holiday card features an extraordinarily decorated partridge in a pear tree by the American illustrator and Disney animator Eyvind Earle (1916–2000), reproduced from his original gouache of 1966. An award-winning artist known for his bold depictions of nature in rich, saturated hues, Earle’s work is found in The Met collection.
Share the beauty of winter as seen by four renowned Japanese artists from The Met collection: Katsushika Hokusai, Nakabayashi Chikudo, Utagawa Hiroshige, and So Shiseki. Featuring artworks painted from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, the images in this beautiful set represent just a few examples of the rich artistic tradition of Japanese depictions of nature.
As the universal symbol of peace, the dove was a recurring theme for Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973). Some of his most famous depictions of doves are rumored to be based on the pet doves of friend and rival painter Henri Matisse. In 1949, the World Congress of Advocates of Peace adopted Picasso’s drawing of a dove as the symbol for their organization. Our elegant foldout holiday card adapts his graceful dove from a 1961 drawing.