When I was growing up, more years ago than I care to share, Christmas cards were as much a part of the holiday celebration as the ornaments on the tree. Every afternoon in the weeks leading up to December 25, the mailman, his leather bag full to bursting, would deposit a batch of hand-addressed envelopes into the mailbox. There would be colorful cards from aunts, uncles, cousins, assorted distant relatives, friends, neighbors, my dad’s Navy buddies from WWII.
We had no mantelpiece, so the cards were proudly Scotch-taped around the living-room mirror and assembled on the coffee table. The place of honor was on top of the television. For their part, my parents would devote an entire night to addressing and inscribing their own prodigious batch of greetings.
To this boy, the spirit of the season arrived in every one of those envelopes, and in the decades since I have honored the tradition. I don’t consider it a chore or an antiquated obligation to get out of the way. Quite the opposite: I get a kick out of shopping for cards I hope my diverse network will enjoy — religious, generic, comic, environmental, campy, artsy, hand-crafted, sentimental — and perhaps remember. From Currier & Ives to Swarovski pop-ups, Nativity scenes to caroling polar bears, wood prints to watercolors, I cover the greeting card poles every December. And while this exercise can add up (plus postage), it brings me joy.
Which brings us to Christmas Present. And my dilemma. Namely, could this be the year I cut back on the cards I send — or, incredibly, stop sending them altogether? Frankly I’ve had it with some people, and I might need to take drastic action. Or inaction.
Understand that at one time, my holiday mailing list comprised something like 60 addresses (which those of you with large families might consider small). But aunts and uncles died, cousins and friends drifted away, former colleagues went missing, relationships withered. Lines were drawn through names.
And so, for approximately a dozen years, my list held steady at about 40 cards. I rarely got 40 greetings in return — something I chalked up to poor breeding. But in recent christmases, noticeably fewer and fewer greetings have been appearing in my holiday mailbox. I can’t help being disappointed, which is not what you want to be on the holidays.
I also can’t fathom friends not making the effort. I’m baffled by those individuals who smugly explain that they never send holiday cards, as a matter of principle or whatever. I want to tell them: Start before it’s too late. Just because you’ve been insensitive and anti-social for years doesn’t mean you can’t change your ways. Remember Ebenezer Scrooge, dude. He changed. (Note: If you’re Jewish and send Hanukkah greetings to your Jewish friends but nothing to your gentile friends on the holidays, that’s not kosher on several levels.)
And do people really believe that an email or a text or a Facebook post has the same value as a traditional polished-linen or hand-printed card with a handwritten message that you can hold and display on the piano or bookshelf?
Sadly, yes. Every year, I get more and more of these digital tidings from relatives and friends I thought knew better. My (unspoken) reaction to these missive goes like this:Thanks, I mean, wow, you sat at your computer for maybe 20 minutes, then clicked “send.” To everyone on your list. Maybe I’ll print it out and tape it to the refrigerator. Not.
I say do it old-school, lick a real-life stamp and use a real-life pen to give them your holiday best. (The less said about folks who send lengthy holiday emails recounting all the wonderful things that happened to them in the closing year, the better. This sort of self-congratulation is obnoxious enough when it arrives via the Postal Service, accompanied by a lame photograph, but it violates all decency when emailed. Just saying.)
As for the cards that simply stopped arriving for unexplained reasons, maybe the relative or friend in question has decided they don’t like me so much after all these years. But is this the way to let me know?
So, what is a guy to do this Christmas? Maybe it is time to cross out a few names — rattle the sleigh bells, as it were — and see if it is even noticed.
Nah, I think I’ll do what I do every year, at least one more time. And as long as I receive enough cards to hang on a string in front of the fireplace — and a couple on either side of the HD flat-screen — I’ll be happy.