When my wife and I were first married, Christmas cards were an enormous deal.
Every card would be personally handcrafted. We would etch them on parchment, paint them on canvas, pound them out on a thin sheet of copper. One year, every card was crocheted.
For some recipients, we would inscribe an original poem. For others, we would send an audio card, featuring us singing in perfect harmony while playing ukuleles.
I would get a tingle of holiday spirit every time we would put a stamp on another slice of Christmas and send it off to a beloved friend or relative.
When children arrived, the Christmas card tradition became more difficult. It was hard to carve out enough time; eventually we gave in and used pre-purchased cards. Still, we wanted everyone to know that they were special, and each card included a long personal message.
It wasn’t long before writer’s cramp took hold, however, and each card no longer included a personal message, though they were personally signed by Steve, Michelle, Ben, Kurt and whatever pet we had at the time.
We tried including a Christmas letter one year, printing off a hundred of the things and slipping them inside “Have a Very Ziggy Christmas” cards, but when my mom admitted that she dozed off somewhere around page two, we realized that our very special friends weren’t very interested in the dull minutiae (“... and in March, Steve had a perfect checkup from the dentist, though the hygienist urged him to floss more regularly”).
Eventually, we settled on the family photo cards, where you take one picture of the kids, set it in front of a Christmas background, put “Have a Merry Festivus” in block letters and poof, you’re done, postcard style. Everything but the addressing.
When you do several dozen of these things, though, the addressing can be time consuming. People move every year, too, and for a number of distant friends the only contact we would have from them would be their own yearly Christmas card. There’s nothing more sad than a Christmas card returned to sender “address unknown.”
With postage budgets tight, and time constraints growing — work, family, shopping, home repair, court-ordered community service — we recently went to an email Christmas card. We put together several photos from throughout the year, added one heartfelt personal message, pressed send, and voila.
It seemed popular and it only took up a few bytes of room in cyberspace; no need for the recipients to find space to hang or display it; no need to feel that twinge of guilt when the card is eventually (or immediately) thrown away.
Last year, I’m not sure what happened, but time got away from us. No cards were sent, of any fashion. No pictures. No links to heartwarming YouTube videos. I tossed up a Facebook status update of “Merry Christmas. Don’t shoot your eye out,” and that was it.
We felt terrible. So many friends had taken the time and effort to send us a piece of their lives, be it a few words or a picture or even just a stamp on a card with a return address label attached. Just a little something that for a moment evoked memories of times well spent with people who remain special in our hearts, no matter the distance that separates us.
We vowed not to have that feeling again this year. We would go back to our roots, with hand-calligraphed notes, individually made for each friend.
Unfortunately, Thanksgiving travel pushed back our time table. Then there was an early deadline at work, and sickness in the house. There was the leak in the bathroom, the car broke down, and we really had to catch up on “Breaking Bad” before someone spoiled the finale.
To make a long story short, we didn’t get out any cards again this year. Not a one. Not to our sainted mothers. Not to our best friends from college. Not to each other. Late on Christmas Eve I tweeted “Merry Xmas to all, and to all a good night,” to all 11 of my Twitter followers (Xmas takes up five fewer characters than Christmas!).
It’s not that we love you all any less. In fact we love you more, because you keep sending us cards, even without positive reinforcement from us. If it makes you feel better, we feel worse for every card that comes.
Next year we’ll get out our own cards, even if we have to start in June. I promise. Probably.
Email Steve Ouellette:firstname.lastname@example.org