"Peace" is the universal season's greeting for 1987.

The dove, an endangered species in a more militaristic time not long ago, is nesting on many cards this year, replacing last year's pet, the teddy bear.

The Gorbachev-Reagan Washington summit was only a hope in many hearts last year when card creators were at work. Now, just as that meeting is about to begin, the U.S. mails will be filled with peaceful wishes -- about 2.2 billion, by the Greeting Card Association's estimate. Think of the power of all those good thoughts!

{Except where specifically noted, all cards are generally available in shops, though you may have to try several to find just the card you want.}

The message of peace is poignantly expressed in the hope on the face of a tender angel from the Mazarin Tapestry, c. 1500, on a delicate card from the National Gallery of Art.

UNICEF, benefiting the world's children, offers greetings in English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese -- and the Latin "Pax."

The Card and Party Shop in Georgetown Park Mall also has other cards to spread the tidings in Japanese, Spanish, Norwegian, Italian, Polish, Greek and Czechoslovakian.

And from Greeting Teas comes a stimulating wish for "Peace and Prosperi-tea," with an Earl Grey tea bag inside the card.

Peace in the Air

FromUNICEF's collection: a dove silhouetted in silver foil by Anna Belli of Brazil, and a pair of cooing doves by Alban Welti of Switzerland.

Amnesty International (Adoption Group No. 422 of West Alexandria) offers a card with a dove on a cranberry red background, available by mail from Mike and Lisa Myers, 5432 Bradford Ct., No. 232, Alexandria, Va. 22311. A package of 20 cards is $9.

Three-dimensional, die-cut interlocking doves on a clear acetate background, designed by architect Ted Naos, can swing from the Christmas tree as an ornament.

Doves share an elaborate die-cut quadra-fold card from Hallmark with a tree, a heart, a star and a snowflake.

Only Hallmark knows whether the dove on an intricate card by Linda Pozorski is flying through glittering rays of light from a tiny tapestry or an elaborate embroidery.

More exotic birds fly on the note cards from the rare collections of the Library of Congress: Fasciated Trogon, Blue-throated Nyctiornis, Allied Eurylaime and Dalhousie's Eurylaime, from "The Birds of Asia" by John Gould (1850-83).

Love

If peace has a rival this leap year, it's love.

Love and peace are linked around a dove with a red heart. The message reads: "I Love You" on the outside and goes further in the inside with "at Christmas and Always." And a glittering red heart says "Sweetheart, you put me in the mood for mistletoe!" All from Hallmark.

Christmas Trees

Afterdoves, Christmas trees are this year's most common card symbol.

A 25-foot spruce reaches for the vaulted ceiling in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress on the cover of one card. Its 1846 message is from Charles Dickens: "Many merry Christmases, friendships, great accumulation of cheerful recollections ... for all of us."

The tree also grows tall this year on seven cards by Naos -- the best one, a three-dimensional tree suitable for hanging from your tree.

From Hallmark's forest comes a tree so glittering it's as though it were made of green garland, to stand on your mantel.

Dog to Dog

The hottest new too-cute-for-words (only woofs and meows) trend is what Patti Brickman of the Greeting Card Association calls the pet-to-pet greeting -- "your pooch sending greetings to your neighbor's cat." "Merry Christmas From Our Dog to Yours" and "A Christmas Wish From the Cat" (which regrettably carries the message "Merry kitty-mas to you") are both by Hallmark. For those who have neither kitty nor puppy, there are plenty of teddy bear cards out there -- though not, thankfully, as many as last year.

Cards for Our Times

Notall messages this year are full of peace or love. Consider Hallmark's "The Yuppie Days of Christmas": "On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me/ twelve lunches doing/eleven banks foreclosing/ten 'k's' a-jogging/ nine pairs a-wing tips/eight Volvos revving/ seven lawyers suing/six condos leasing/five Krugerrands!/four calling cards/three trench coats/two savings bonds/and a tax-deferred/annuity!"

Maine Line Co. of Rockport, Maine, also offers seasonal greetings for our times: "I Dashered and Dancered and Prancered around getting ready for Christmas. And now that I'm Donnered, I'm gonna get Blitzened."

Money, Money, Money

In this mercenary time, cards designed to hold checks or (better) cash might just sell faster than stock certificates. Hallmark speeds your money on its way via a train engineered by Santa, with the legend "$omething $pecial for You!"

Festival of Light

B'naiB'rith Museum lights the way with Hanukah cards, including one with puzzles for children and bright adults, and "Chanukah Seeds: Festivus luminous octalasting" from the Festival of Lights Seed Co., full of bits and pieces of glitter, including a six-pointed star and a gold coin.

Santa Claus

Santa,sadly, stands in danger of being held hostage on a Hallmark card: A couple hoists a giant cage over Santa's milk and cookies and the wish "Hope you capture the Spirit of Christmas!" A shortage of that Christmas spirit is also plain on another Hallmark card that shows a reindeer aghast at the reading on Santa's scale.

More festive -- and charitable in their treatment of Santa -- are the Library of Congress' 1937 cards of "The Night Before Christmas," by Fern Bisel Peat.

Recycled Paper Products Inc. casts Santa as a weatherman. He predicts "a partly Merry Christmas with increasing joy toward Jan. 1, followed by scattered prosperity throughout the New Year."

Specifically Yours

For all those people you've slighted during the year, Hallmark has a card: the school bus driver (would yours mind being pictured as a cat?); the teacher (a snowman on a slate); the baby sitter (a bunny rabbit taking care of a squirrel in pajamas, both wearing bunny slippers). And for "a very special sister," a cat card. Draw your own conclusions.

Ethnic Cards

Washington'sown J.C. Ventures (writer Wanda Jackson, an IBM communications specialist of Manassas, and artist Larry Chandler, a State Department senior visual information specialist) markets "graphiti gems," 12 greeting cards with bold colors scrawled across black backgrounds. Messages tell of African traditions such as Kwanzaa, as well as black American history and culture.

Toast and Strawberries rejoices with Kwanzaa cards of fruits, lights and people by Corbbrey, for "Shades of Black." The principle: "... to get to the future, we must come through the past." These contemporary black greetings also offer a stylish card showing three black women in turbans and hoop earrings.

Religious

Religious cards from commercial publishers aren't doing as well in this, the year when the television evangelists lost their signals.

But not to worry: As always, the best of the religious Christmas cards are available from the old masters, housed at the National Gallery of Art. A sampling from NGA: The Postal Service's official religious Christmas stamp, a detail of "A Gentleman in Adoration before the Madonna," c. 1560, by Giovanni Battista Moroni, is matched by a card. A charming "Annunciation" by Giovanni di Domenico, c. 1500, is a die-cut card shaped like a small altar. But the best choice is "Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel" (1308) by Duccio di Buoninsegna -- everybody, not only the prophets, but also the angels, the horse, the bull, the lambs and an adorable dog, has come to worship the babe in a cave stable.

For its first Christmas, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has two Christmas cards of its own from the Holladay collection, now in the museum's permanent collection: Lavinia Fontana's 16th-century "Holy Family With St. John" and Angelica Kauffman's 1772 "The Family of the Earl of Gower." NMWA also has cards by other women artists.

The Different Drummer

Waggle his head and he beats the drum: "Rum pa-pa-pum, Have a Christmas full of fun!" An action card from Hallmark.

'Tis the Season to Be Jolly

Greeting Seeds of Portland hides 600 milligrams of white alyssum seeds (appropriately nicknamed "Carpet of Snow") in a card by Angie Holland.

The Smithsonian's "Happy New Year" card is a label from the Museum of American History: a cupid toasting Santa Claus with champagne, printed by Krueger & Braun of New York, c. 1892.

The Folger Shakespeare Library celebrates with a card from "Visscher's View of London," 1616, with a seasonal wreath on the Globe Theatre.

The Library of Congress sends a message from A to Z in an illustration of penmanship from "Arte Nuevo de Escribir por Preceptos Geometricos y Reglas Mathematicas," by Juan Claudio Aznar de Polanco, Madrid, 1719, from the Rosenwald Collection.

One card fits all celebrations: the "All Purpose Generic Greeting Card" carries this message: "Whatever." California Dreams at Walden Bookstores.

Washington's Own

The nation's capital, home of the Congressional Christmas Tree bill (any bill with gifts for every member's district), is gaining in importance as a Christmas card subject -- and a home for Christmas card photographers and artists.

Susan Davis' nostalgic and delicate cards for Caspari deserve close attention: The Chesapeake Bay pier card shows a Christmas tree for the seafowl, and you could spend all day finding the tiny ornaments on her Christmas tree card.

Lelia G. Hendren photographed the Old Stone House in Georgetown, the west front of the Capitol, a night view of the White House and the Ellipse with Christmas trees, for Starwood Publishers.

The Smithsonian's Castle, the White House and the Capitol were painted by Mille Bennett for cards carried in the Celebrate America shop in National Place.

Summer on the Mall is remembered on Naos' 3-D, die-cut carrousel card, another paper ornament for your tree.

Fred Schlitzer, a Britches staffer, is one of the few making hand-painted oil Christmas cards this year ($12 for one). "Fred's Frameables" are only at Card & Party Shop in Georgetown Park Mall.

The most unusual Washington card is a blueprint of the John Russell Pope design for the fac ade of the National Gallery of Art.

And for all the Reagan-licans on your list, for what may be their next-to-last Washington Christmas: A card showing the Reagans' pictures over a mantel, a streamer saying, "Nancy, Merry Christmas, Ron," and the message, "I'd like to join Nancy and Ron in wishing you a Very Merry Christmas" (by Mark LaFavor for Recycled Paper Products Inc.). For the Democrats, there's a card with a cartoon of Reagan and the message: "This Christmas All America Has A Lot To Be Thankful For" -- and on the inside: "I Can't Run Again" (by Shelly Wasserman and Roger Wilder for Gerilyse Cards, Recycled Paper Products Inc.). And then there's Nosecard, a card-sized mask with the nose cut out.

A more ambiguous card cartoons Ollie North with a Santa hat and his medals. It reads: " 'Tis the season to be Ollie ... {and inside} "Happy Holidays (Do not shred until after December 25)."

Innovation of the Year

VideoCards in Ballston Commons, Arlington, will videotape you and your family (no more than six) in a sleigh with a snow backdrop. You can sing, recite poetry (cue cards are furnished) or, as one group did, rap a version of "Jingle Bells" (no longer than three minutes). From an idea by Cindy Scott Johnson, the producer. A tape is $29.95 for the first and $9.95 for each duplicate.