January 08, 2018

The Lowly Christmas Card

A lot of people I know send only electronic versions of their family Christmas cards or post photos on Facebook proclaiming “happy holidays to all” – and call it a day. Digital cards are more economically and ecologically efficient, it’s true. And not everyone enjoys the whole card process: stuffing, licking, addressing, stamping, mailing … they’re more than happy to cross it off the list as once and done. But I’m not one of them. I love real Christmas cards. And I’m not going gently into the virtual world.

I know letting go of the paper process makes sense on a lot of fronts, but I also know that my kids – ages twelve, fourteen, and sixteen – still get a thrill from going through the cards arriving in our mail every day in December (or for those over-zealous senders, starting the day after Thanksgiving).

When they were little kids, most of life’s details were hands-on, each day full of tangible discoveries met with wonder. It’s harder and harder to find that wonder now, but I see it for about ten minutes every day in December when they get home from school or practice, and right away check to see if there are any new cards waiting on the kitchen table. Some they recognize right away. Other pictures and names aren’t as familiar. They ask me, who are these people again? How do we know them? Where do they live? Or, when are we going to see them again? If the cards were all electronic, I don’t think the scene would unfold quite the same way, all together and out loud. We don’t pass around a phone or iPad the same way we pass around a card.

I’m probably not going to coerce my converted friends and family back to the paper method. I’ve accepted it. Each year we get fewer cards, and I understand. I hold on to some cards each year, the ones from close friends and family, and any that strike me as very pretty or funny. I’ve also saved all our own family cards, starting with 2001 when Owen was born. So, when December arrives, I supplement and have a pretty full card basket right away. Going through the past cards is part of the whole getting-ready-for-Christmas ritual in our house, too, sort of a holiday time capsule. I don’t know if anyone else does this? (If not, that’s okay, please recycle!)

I know sending real cards costs time and money and trees, none of which we should discount. But I would gladly short-shrift some other things on my holiday to-do list before I’d stop sending cards. I do it for all the holdouts who also seek wonder, connection, and nostalgia at this magical and also sometimes difficult time of year. I do it for friends who celebrate Christmas and those who don’t, friends who live down the street and those who live halfway around the world. I do it to connect to the people I care about, and to connect to the person I’ve been for as long as I’ve loved this now kind of old-fashioned process …

1984 – As a grade school kid, I too would burst through the door each afternoon and search out the newly arrived cards in the basket my mom kept by our kitchen table. I still sort through my parents’ card basket when we visit them at Christmas time. And once again, I’m ten in the haven of my mother’s kitchen.

1996 – I’m a newly-minted adult, just graduated from college, sending Christmas cards from my very own address for the first time, a tiny tucked away apartment in the wilds of Sussex County, New Jersey. (You know I’m serious about that wilderness if you’ve ever been there.) Somehow this round of cards was a statement, at least to myself. I was fully independent.

1999 – I’m a little more grown up, just married, and sending cards from our first house, official return address labels and everything.

2000 –I’m sitting in the ski lodge in Killington, Vermont, during our annual pre-Christmas weekend with college friends. Not skiing. Addressing cards instead, announcing that in June we’ll have a baby!

We’ve had two more babies since then. The pace of life has ebbed and flowed depending on so many factors. But each year, when I sit down to prep my Christmas cards in the still of a late evening house, the continuity of this ritual comforts and cheers me. It’s a small, organized, neatly-controlled part of Christmas, but it exerts a force much greater than its size over my well-being, my sense of peace. And, from both the religious and secular perspectives, isn’t that what Christmas time is truly about? We know it’s not really about the gifts, the food, the insanity that’s led to the “surviving the holidays” mantra. It’s not even about the cards. It’s about finding those few traditions, those shared and cherished rites – different for each of us – that truly connect us to who we are and to those we love.

About our Blogger:

Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder.  That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at www.elizabethdoughertyfreelanc ewriting.wordpress.com or connect with her on Facebook.

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