If you're looking for alternative holiday cards, the National Gallery of Arts should top your list of shops to visit. For cheap greetings, its postcards of gallery art can't be beat: 10 cents each or three for a quarter.

The cards at the Museum of African Art are designed with African motifs, from madonna and child to bright abstract designs. They're priced from 45 cents each. The Library of Congress draws from its vast collections for the images on its greeting cards -- the adoration of the Magi, a menorah jolly Santa Clauses, a simple holly tree and others. Get them by mail, or from the sales desk for 25 and 35 cents each, or $2.50 to $3.50 for 12.

Or, browse through the new wave in greeting cards from companies like Paper Moon Graphics, and you'ill find offbeat scenes of santas sporting cowboy hats and driving cars instead of reindeer (sold at Body Scenter, Card Catalogue, Small Images and elsewhere). For the postage-conscious the Body Scenter also stocks a portfolio of 28 old-fashioned Christmas postcards ( $4), like the one at right; and the Card Catalogue carries a line of elegant lightweight cards from Marcel Schurman that are ideal for air mail.