I hope you and yours are enjoying a very Merry Christmas, or at least, rejoicing in a day off work. I am sending my best wishes for a wonderful celebration with family and friends, and for a New Year full of blessings. But I did not send any holiday cards.
It’s a tradition as sacred as pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving (okay, bad example, we didn’t do that either this year, but only because I couldn’t find canned pumpkin in South Africa). Every year, with the arrival of December comes a steady stream of holiday cards from family and friends. As a kid, it was among the most exciting mail we got all year. My mom is one of eight and all of her sisters and brothers sent cards from across the country; it was usually the only time I got to “see” my far-away cousins aside from family reunions. My parents put a lot of time and effort into our holiday cards. My dad would devise an elaborate theme or scene (for example, one year we brought a little Christmas tree and Santa hats to the beach and wrote out, “Merry Christmas from the Sandy Clauses” on the beach) and my mom would painstakingly write out each one and send them to dozens of family and friends. Deciding who would get a holiday card in a given year was a complex undertaking involving multiple variables such as: did they send us a card last year? do we think we have their current address? are we still friends with them?
Sending holiday cards is also something of a rite of passage. It was only when I started my own family that I began to send holiday cards. In the beginning, I sent them to everyone who was invited to our wedding, but as the years went on, the list was pared down. Still, I wrote out and mailed more than seventy holiday cards two years ago.
It was one of those late nights searching for a cousin’s address that I first started questioning the ritual. Snail mail in general is quaint these days; who doesn’t love getting a letter from a friend? More than that, there is a warm feeling that comes from knowing you are on someone’s “holiday card list.” So to all those who sent us cards – thank you!
We only received a few cards from far-flung relatives this year. The vast majority of the cards covering our mantel right now come from friendships formed in the last five years. With one exception, these are the people we see regularly. It’s lovely to have their frame-worthy portraits grinnings down at us, but I prefer their in-person smiles any day. And while the brief updates on the back of some cards are nice, none of it is news to us. Even for those families we do not see frequently, Facebook, Skype, and email keep us up to date on the cuteness of their kids, the excitement of their vacations, and major life changes.
Last year, I tried to emphasize the sentiment behind holiday cards by handmaking individualized cards for my closest friends and family. It was a nice idea, but kept me up late into the night throughout November and December, and I still did not manage to send cards to everyone on my list. So, to get a jump start on my New Year’s Resolution to SIMPLIFY, I freed myself of the obligation to get a good family photo, design cards, order them so they’d arrive before we left town in early November, write them out while we were on vacation, and remember to get stamps and mail them. Instead, my holiday season this year was filled with family fun (our first time seeing The Nutcracker, reindeer rides, parties, constructing a nature nativity with objects we found on forest hikes and other holiday craft projects) and going to bed at a reasonable hour. I still feel a little guilty, so please accept my apology for not sending you a card. But then, there’s always next year.