NANTON – Editor's note: Warning to our readers - links at the bottom of this story include 'risque' photos.
You’ve seen Christmas cards before, but you may not have seen anything like this.
The story behind these cards begins with Steve McMasters, a bachelor from Nanton, who was travelling in Europe in the summer of 2010 when the idea of funny Christmas cards first came to him.
“I was working in oil and gas for years, and I never got to see how my facial hair would grow, so I let it go for the entire month that I was in Europe. When I was coming back from Brussels to London, there was a photobooth shop I came across and I used all my remaining euros to take a mean mug shot. I just kind of thought that would be a funny Christmas card, so I printed off about 30 of them and gave them to family,” McMasters said.
The next year in 2011, McMasters was at a party in Shuswap Lake, took a funny pose and gave those pictures out.
“I did about 55 of those, and then in 2013 is when it really started to snowball.”
That’s when McMasters met local photographer Lori Loree who had moved to Nanton with her husband after a career in broadcasting. She told McMasters that she loved his Christmas card concept and that she wanted to help him out.
“So, we partnered up, and that’s when I did my first official shoot with the trophies. I thought it was just a funny concept. I come from a pretty good family here in town and everybody has their kids and their pets and I’m just this lonely bachelor dude who wanted to put a smile on everybody’s face.”
Loree says when they did their first card collaboration together, it was a hit.
“He had the trophies in front of him, because he’s the captain of a senior men’s hockey team, and a couple of years later we continued to do this, and people were just looking forward to this card,” Loree said.
Now with a professional photographer assisting him, McMasters said he already had the idea for his card in 2014 in his head.
At some point between 2013 and 2014, one of his buddies bet him that he couldn’t grow out his hair.
“That’s why in the 2015 card it’s so long, and we even ended up donating it to cancer, but when the 2015 card came out it was pretty racy. I’m the whitest guy around here, with long greasy hair and still just this single guy looking to put a smile on everybody’s face. And that’s the card that Alyssa ended up seeing, but the idea started off as just wanting to make people laugh.”
The "Alyssa" he refers to Alyssa Briggs, who was at a friend’s house in Nanton that year and saw the 2015 card on her fridge and decided she had to meet the man.
They went out on a blind date, and Loree explains that McMasters had always told her he’d know when he met the right girl when she wanted to be on his Christmas card, and the following Christmas she was on the card.
Briggs, when she first saw the Christmas card, realized that she’d always been this quirky person who a lot of men didn’t understand.
“I have a lot of awesome girlfriends who think I’m hilarious, but when I’d meet guys at the bar or go on dates, they’d think I was weird and never call me back. It was kind of the same thing with Steve, we talk about it now that he had lots of good guy friends but even though he could make girls laugh they thought he was weird. So, I’m at a friend’s house, and I see this goddess in a leaf thong, and honestly, the first thing I thought was confidence is the most attractive thing on anybody, and second of all I think this might be the first guy who doesn’t think I’m weird.”
Suffice it to say, it worked out for the both of them. They dated and posed for the card for two years, before Steve proposed the day before they photographed this year’s card. The theme being “Christmas 2018 has a nice ring to it.”
Loree says she did some engagement photos for them, after they did the funny Christmas card, and had a funny realization.
“I had commented to them that I felt a little bit awkward because I had never photographed the two of them together with a lot of clothes on. I had to go back into my normal photography mode, and they’re getting married in June of 2020, so I’m pretty excited to take photos that a little more formal.”
The reactions to the cards have been overwhelmingly positive, and at one stage it had gotten so big that McMasters had people contacting him requesting to be on a mailing list, but he didn’t even know the people asking.
“I didn’t really have any negative reactions, of course, you hear a bit through the grapevine of people saying what’s wrong with this guy, but it was kind of all in fun.”
McMasters also had a funny story about one of the first reactions he can remember from someone receiving his card.
“I would have to say the one that sticks out in my mind was a local girl in town for the 2013 card was all happy to get her first Christmas card. She was in the Nanton post office, opened it up, and screamed because she wasn’t expecting it. That was one of the funniest reactions I heard,” McMasters said, adding the small-town community all kind of know what he’s like so they get it and understand it.
And it’s not just Nanton who gets to experience the Christmas cards up close in personal, as Loree mentioned that they have the cards printed at the Costco in Okotoks.
“Costco Okotoks looks forward to seeing this card every year. It’s incredible, the two of them are clearly very outgoing people, and they have a lot of friends between them. That you could have a Christmas card as a lonely, bachelor type guy and then meet the right person for your entire life because of a funny photo you took of yourself, it doesn’t happen every day.”
McMasters simply did the cards as a way to make people laugh and put a smile on people’s faces at this time of year. So, did he ever envision that he’d meet his wife-to-be through Christmas cards?
“That’s the one thing I never expected to happen, most definitely did not. It kind of spread like wildfire starting in 2014, where I’d go to a Calgary Flames game and somebody would stop me and say ‘hey I’ve seen you before you’re on my buddies fridge!’ It wasn’t until then that I realized it had spread around further than I’d thought, but I didn’t once think it would lead me to a relationship. Though I did have something in the back of my mind saying I’d find the girl of my dreams, and that she would want to do the cards with me.”
However, another quirk to this story is after seeing the Christmas card for the first time Briggs had a different reaction.
“It’s kind of the opposite actually. When I saw the card, I made a joke and said I’m going to marry that guy one day. For me, and I know it sounds so silly, but I just saw him and had never met anybody on the same level as me. That’s pretty cool, because you don’t really know until you meet them, but it was definitely lust at first sight,” she stated.
For a small town like Nanton, between 250-300 Christmas cards being sent out is a pretty big deal, and that’s exactly the number McMasters was sending between 2013-2016 after partnering up with Loree.
The past two years, since Briggs has joined in on the tradition, they’ve had to print out 500 cards each year.
“It gained so much more traction in 2016 after a pretty girl was added to the picture, to distract everyone from me,” McMasters joked.
“It’s a fun thing we love to do for people, especially around the holidays, and now people expect it so it’s even harder to stop. You have to try and outdo yourself every year, so it’s a good challenge for us and the best part is I don’t have to do it by myself anymore.”
And Briggs had no issues taking credit for the boost in popularity.
“Steve has a huge group of friends, and I was able to bring a huge group of friends as well because I’m from Calgary. We were able to connect Nanton and Calgary through weird Christmas cards,” she added.
Loree says this is one of those stories that just doesn’t happen to everybody, and that McMasters and Briggs are two people who were definitely meant to be together.
“It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of that as a photographer. I can’t see those two having a normal Christmas card for a long time. I have people contacting me on social media that don’t know them that want to know when their card is coming out. I have people at weddings that I don’t know who have seen the photos who tell me how much they enjoy them.”
McMasters started it all as a joke and certainly didn’t think way back in 2011 that starting this thing would be the main source of finding his wife.
“Didn’t plan for that to happen, but I’m so glad that it did,” he continued. “Couldn’t imagine it any other way.”
Briggs shares that sentiment but added one more thing about looking forward to future Christmas cards.
“We do hope to have children one day, so we’ll have to get them involved in a little more PG version when that time comes, but until then they’ll stay the same.”
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