DENHAM SPRINGS — Way down here in Louisiana, with no snow, ice or reindeer, Christmas looks a little different.
For 20 years, the Cajun version of Christmas cheer has been spread by Denham Springs’ Routh family, who craft Louisiana holiday cards with bayou-touched whimsy — gators pulling Santa’s sleigh, crawdads wearing Santa hats and cypress trees in place of towering firs.
“We are just trying to capture everything that is great about Louisiana,” said Leslie Routh, 52, who co-founded the business with husband Craig, 54. “We’re so famous for the food, fun. We started realizing what people responded to.”
Sold online and in stores across the Gulf Coast states, The Routh Collection Christmas card line is expanding every year. Craig Routh estimates they sell 200,000 to 300,000 cards a year now.
Their original office was a 400-square foot converted carport. He added a larger carport, which eventually became office and warehouse space as well. Today the office — packed wall to wall with boxes and computers — consumes 2,000-square feet off the Acadian style home Craig Routh built.
Now, the Routh family’s illustrations adorn products appropriate for year-round use — thank-you notes and other stationary along with plates, garden flags and other merchandise. They’ve also expanded from Louisiana-centric illustrations — water-skiing crawdads, fleur de lis designs and a pirogue-driving Santa — to include Texas-themed cards, like longhorns and dusty prairies.
As a bit of lagniappe, each card has a Routh-tested recipe on the back. Some of the favorites are pralines, French onion soup and shrimp and grits.
“Louisiana and Texas have such unique cultures,” said Leslie Routh. “You just can’t find the material that you can in Texas and Louisiana. There’s no place like it.”
Three generations of the Rouths work together, from Stan Routh, 82, who still creates illustrations when he’s not selling his own work at 30 art shows a year, to his wife, Lee Routh, 75, who packages all the cards for sale in stores. Both of Craig and Leslie Routh’s sons are artists as well. Andrew Routh, 23, just redesigned the website his mother originally built, and Brandon Routh, 27, helps fill orders and works in the office.
For much of the year, Leslie and Craig Routh stay so busy that they barely see one another, even working in the same house.
“They don’t take any breaks,” said Brandon Routh. “Don’t let them fool you. She’ll work ’til 1 in the morning sometimes just to get stuff done while the phone’s not ringing.”
The ever-expanding business began as just a sideline, something to keep Craig and Leslie Routh at home when their sons were young. Back then, the couple constantly traveled to art shows, selling her jewelry and his paintings. And given his father’s well-known illustrations and work as an architectural designer, a career in art came naturally to Craig Routh.
They began cranking out Louisiana-themed Christmas cards for another company in the 1980s, but when that business went under, fans of their work cornered them at art shows and requested new products.
When their boys were young, the constant travel to art shows became difficult, so the Rouths resurrected the Christmas card business on their own in 1994.
“When you’re designing for yourself, you’re coming up with the idea and the inspiration yourself,” Leslie Routh said. “You put everything into it, and you don’t have anyone else second-guessing you.”
Their first cards featured more realistic scenes of typical Louisiana sites, like Jackson Square in New Orleans with Santa’s sleigh and reindeer flying over the French Quarter. Over the years, the cards have “gotten a life of their own,” said Leslie Routh.
“As we got into the cards, it became more whimsical,” said Craig Routh.
One of this year’s best sellers, “Dixieland Jazz Fleur-de-lis,” portrays a trumpet-playing crawfish, a banjo-strumming brown pelican and a bass-thumping gator forming a trio at New Orleans’ Preservation Hall. In another favorite, “Christmas on the Water,” a gator rowing a wooden boat pulls a waterskiing crawfish in front of a decorated cypress tree.
“It’s the music, the food, the crawfish, just the Louisiana traditions at Christmas time,” Craig Routh said. “The whole line is based on things that we can think of that are special that people love.”
Some people worry that they’ll run out of fresh ideas, but the family doubts that could ever happen.
“It’s endless,” Craig Routh said. “Louisiana’s got such a rich heritage and culture.”