I am not sending Christmas cards this year.
This is not news. I did not mail any last year. Or the year before.
In fact, the only time I ever attempted December correspondence en masse was fifteen years ago, when we got puppies. I bought antlers and a Santa hat, and took photographs of our furry babies. I printed wallet-sized images on do-it-yourself photo paper – you know, in case my friends wanted to carry my dogs in their wallets – and made a list of forty-two folks whom I figured deserved a letter. In the end, I wrote, addressed, and mailed maybe six cards. I have not tried again since.
The holidays are busy and sending cards is a chore. I am flabbergasted anyone manages to do it. As a perpetual recipient and lackluster sender, I have developed a few theories about why these missives continue to crowd my December mailbox.
Where there used to be images of shepherds or candles, cards are now adorned with portraits of perfect families. Archangel Gabriel is out. The Nguyen-Chestertons are in. When I rip open the envelopes, I am greeted by ruddy-cheeked children in gingham and plaid. There’s the family at Disney. And again at the seashore. Isn’t it neat how everyone is wearing khakis?
If you send someone a card this year, the rules state that they should reciprocate. If two years pass unrequited, you don’t need to waste any more stamps. They’ve moved on. And if at the neighbor’s eggnog soirée you notice a card on the mantle that should have gone to you, it is permissible to throw it in the fire. It is like a grown up game of Pokémon, or bad reality TV — The Real Holiday Cards of Somerset County.
Every year, on December 8th, my grandmother used to set up a folding table in the downstairs bedroom, lock the door, and “do the cards.” She rolled up her sleeves and did the dirty business of communicating with family and friends. Who got married? Who dropped out of school? Who got pregnant with someone else’s baby, but we are all okay with it and the christening was Sunday. We send cards because we are supposed to. It’s what separates us from the goats.
Despite the fact that I see most of my friends on Facebook, and we exchange phone calls, emails, and Tweets, I still love receiving their preposterously darling cards. Especially the ones with actual writing – elementary school penmanship brought out once a year, just for me. And for those friends I haven’t seen in years, the ones off the grid — keeping bees in Cleveland, curing meats in Poughkeepsie — these cards are our only tether. I have watched hairlines recede and families grow and blossom. And I have watched my friends grow up happy. That is how I get to think of them year after year.
No matter where you come down on holiday cards — narcissist or Santa, baby Jesus or Grinch — I hope we can agree on one thing: they make for one hell of a drinking game. Some time this season, when you can’t face another ugly sweater party or white elephant exchange, just deal out the Christmas cards and pour the tequila. The rules are simple. One shot for fall foliage, two for matching cardigans, three for kids cuter than yours. And chug the whole bottle, worm and all, for anyone ridiculous enough to put antlers on a dog and send out wallet pics.
Originally published in the New York Observer. Special thanks to my Aunt Kathy for the image of Grandma “doing the cards.”