Last year, we shared an article on vintage LEGO holiday greeting cards. The LEGO Group has established a tradition of giving their employees exclusive Christmas themed sets like the X-Mas X-Wing for the holiday season. Even longer than that, since at least the 1970s, the LEGO Group has produced special Christmas cards for employees (and, occasionally, the UK LEGO Club). Each year brings a new card, with artwork ranging from carefully staged minifigures to elaborate brick-built designs. You can find blank examples that were used to send personalized messages, as well as cards with printed holiday greetings from LEGO’s leadership, such as owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen.
The stories behind these cards have been seldom told…until now. Leafing through my collection of old LEGO employee magazines, I stumbled upon an article from the December 1981 issue of Klodshans on the development of the Christmas card for 1981. The card in question featured a whimsical spacey depiction of Santa flying by Classic Space set 6842 Small Space Shuttle Craft. This was one of six sets released in 1981 for the Classic Space theme, which debuted in 1979.
Set 6842 – Image courtesy of Brickset
Since this is such a unique topic, I thought it might be fun to share this rare nugget of LEGO history with our readers. The original article was published in Danish, so I used Google Translate and some minor editing to come up with a rough English translation. If any of our readers are fluent in both languages and would like to provide a better translation, please contact us – You can find the original transcript at the end of this article. Without further ado, here is the story behind LEGO’s 1981 Christmas card!
“From thin air – or the story of a Christmas card”
By: Erik Ely Thomsen, Promotion Department
All of a sudden, Christmas is here! What’s funny is that it happens in much the same way every year. Everyone knows that it is coming – in fact, it is at the same time each year – and yet it comes as a surprise every time.
This type of surprise doesn’t happen when you are the “semi-official LEGO Christmas card creator.” Who thinks of Christmas cards in the month of August? Me – That’s who. To be exact, it was on August 13th at an altitude of 6000 meters – traveling from Billund in a LEGO plane heading for Hamburg. Leaning back in the soft airplane seat, it suddenly struck me: “Christmas will be here soon.” These redeeming words, which will make every child cry with delight, brought forth the cold sweat on my forehead.
“A heavenly thought”
There was nothing else to do but grab a sheet of paper and a pen and get started right away. The inspiration came from the airy element we found ourselves in. I had sketched something on the paper that was supposed to represent a LEGO Santa traveling through the sky with his reindeer where he meets a slightly surprised spaceman from the LEGOLAND Space series. Even Santa Claus must admit that times have changed, and he no longer has the upper layers of the atmosphere to himself.
At this point, the sketch was ready for approval by my boss, Niels Thøgersen. That case was quickly settled, for he was on the plane.
Christmas cards are associated with many traditions, among other things, that GKC (Godtfred Kirk Christiansen) and KKK (Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen) – leaders of the LEGO Group – must approve them. In order for this to be possible, we first had to take a photo of the finished set up. That is to say, we needed to start with a LEGO model of Santa Claus.
From my unhelpful strokes, Claus Madsen of the Model Shop made a LEGO model of Santa Claus with a sleigh and reindeer. With reindeer and harness, the model is almost a meter long. The model production department glued together a copy of the design so we could handle it without it breaking apart.
At PH-photo in Kolding, a “space” was constructed. Well, maybe it wasn’t a huge space, but it was 7 meters long and 3.5 meters in height. Like so much else in the world, our universe was a pure deception. The sky is black photo paper, the stars are white paper circles, and the two planets are rubber balls, smeared well with julesne (a sticky substance which turned out to be suitable for making craters with) and finally painted in realistic planet colors.
To make things authentic, the photographer has a past as a jet pilot – so he knows a bit about what it should look like.
The picture was taken and, after we slightly adjusted the color of the planets, the proposal was approved by GKC and KKK. Then it would all be “just” printed. This was done by lb Sørensen from the advertising department, who for the past few years has been manufacturing Christmas cards.
But, of course, it’s not that straight-forward. Films must be made for each color to be printed on the card (non-professionals can see by means of a loupe that the printed card consists of a lot of colored dots which, when viewed from a distance, flow together to form a color image).
In addition, all sales companies and other users must be asked what text they want printed. (33,000 Christmas cards are produced in total.)
Christmas is almost upon us. Everyone has gotten their Christmas cards, and the Christmas card department can relax….until shortly after next summer’s holiday, when Santa Claus knocks again. God jul – Merry Christmas.
More Classic Space advertising from 1981
We hope you enjoyed reading about LEGO’s space-themed Christmas card of 1981. As an extra holiday bonus, here is a look at some Classic Space advertising from 1981. As witnessed in this article, LEGO was known for using practical effects wherever it could in its product photography. This allowed for some awe-inspiring images designed to suck children into an imaginative world, such as this Classic Space arrangement from a 1981 product catalog.
Full page advertisements were created for children’s magazines and comic books. These two Danish ads appeared in Disney comic books.
When the first Classic Space sets appeared on store shelves in 1979, they became wildly popular with children throughout the world. 1981 continued building on the success of this theme by introducing new elements and colors. The 1981 U.S. retailer catalog touted “blue translucent windshields, new landing pods, greater use of white and black contrasting bricks and more!”
To round things off, what better way to do so than with a postcard reminiscent of the featured Christmas card. This postcard features some elaborate LEGO space models, including a giant version of the beloved Galaxy Explorer. This promotional model was built by UK Master Builder, David Lyall, and first displayed at the 1979 International Toy & Hobby Fair at Earls Court. You can read more about it in the Spring 1979 issue of Bricks ‘n Pieces, the UK LEGO Club magazine at the time.
For those who are interested, here is the original Danish version of the 1981 Christmas card article.