My pals at the North Grafton post office received me with hoots of derision when I walked in on Tuesday holding 150 Christmas cards all stamped and ready to go. “Not already—you’re early this year!” They remember well the several past years when I’ve sent out my cards AFTER Christmas, referring to them hopefully as “New Year’s cards”.
The following day I came back with another 60 cards, and declared myself finished. This year I designed the cards, plus a newsletter with text on one side and, on the other, a collage of small photos illustrating the highlights of the year.
The highlight of 2011 for us, of course, was the arrival in August of Amalía, our first grandchild, so we included a lot of shots of her, despite the suggestion of one acquaintance: “Go easy on the baby photos. We’ve all seen enough by now.”
Not a chance! I just cut the critic off my list.
Why do I spend a big chunk of my precious pre-holiday time designing cards and newsletter and photo collage, addressing 200 cards, stamping them and sending them off? Well, for one thing, I love getting cards with news of all those friends I haven’t heard from in a year. Because we lived in Greece for five years and Manhattan for 14, because I grew up in Minnesota, went to college in Wisconsin and Berkeley, we have friends spread around the world. About 35 percent of our cards need overseas stamps.
I love opening holiday cards and reading them, especially if there are photos. One couple always sends a poem, to be sung to music—usually Gilbert and Sullivan. Two couples always feature a painting by one of them. One couple photoshops themselves and their dog into cartoon-ish situations. A gutsy female friend manages to stalk a celebrity every year and get her photo taken along with said celebrity. Last year it was James Gandolfini who played Tony Soprano. The text of the card said: “Hanukah, Xmas, Kwanzaa…Fuggedaboutit! From Bada-Bing and Lotsa Bling.”
(Some of my more tech-savvy friends send animated E-cards—even ones they’ve animated themselves, but it isn’t the same. You can’t store them in a closet in a shoebox to revisit next year.)
Since childhood, daughter Eleni has reveled in the cards we receive, sitting by the tree, studying them all. This is the first year she sent out her own family card (featuring, of course Amalia—it served as a birth announcement as well.)
Eleni wrote a blog post on “The Liminal Stage” about holiday cards, called “The Ghosts of Christmas Cards Past” and included some rules for senders of newsletters. (I know that people like Miss Manners think family newsletters are tacky, but even so, I adore getting them and sending them. It’s the only time of year I actually “correspond” instead of e-mailing.)
Eleni’s rules for Christmas-card writers can mostly be summed up as “Don’t embarrass your children”
Eleni wrote: I’ve read cards bragging about stellar SAT scores (a delight for proud parents, a nightmare for shy kids). But the worst text I’ve ever seen described a seventh-grade boy’s multiple accomplishments and then added, “and yes, he has discovered girls.”
Which leads me to the first rule of holiday card and newsletter writing, which I’d like to offer as a public service: Puberty has no place in your holiday newsletter. If you have a pre-teen, it is already all over your photos. Please, do your sensitive child a favor and ignore any references to a social life and/or physical developments. This will not only save your relationship with your child, it will spare me, the reader, from flashbacks to my own awkward years.
In a similar vein, vacation shots on holiday cards are great. Bikini photos, not so much. I say this as a person who finally had to tell her mother I didn’t want to see my breasts on any more holiday card newsletters...
While we’re on the topic of body image, you should know that if I receive a photo of just your children, not you and your children, I’m going to assume it’s because you don’t want me to see how much weight you’ve put on. (That’s harsh, and not in the spirit of Christian charity and lovingkindness, but I’m telling it like it is.) Your kids are adorable, but you’re the one I went to college with; I want to see your smiling face, too! Of course, this year, our own Christmas card features just the delightful baby Amalía, but that’s because it’s doubling as a birth announcement. And because I don’t want you to see how much weight I’ve put on.
But the biggest faux pas you can make holiday cardwise, as far as I’m concerned, is not sending one at all.
Here are some rules of my own from the viewpoint and wisdom of a senior citizen:
Omit any mention at all of any significant others in your child’s love life—until they’re officially engaged. Lines like “Susie and Oscar Vanderbilt seem to be getting serious” can look awfully embarrassing in a year, after Oscar has come out of the closet and married Rodney Thistlewaite and Susie is back on the dating market.
No matter how fascinating your year has been, even if your last name is Obama, you don’t get more than one page to tell about it. Okay, this year I had to take my Arial 12 point font down to 11 point, but I sternly adhere to the one-page rule.
This is a biggie for senior citizens—whatever grim medical procedure you’ve undergone, do NOT go into detail. No one wants to know. Just sum it up in a cheery matter: “Despite having a knee replacement, Cedric will soon be back on the golf links.”
Of course if Cedric passed away in the past year, you owe it to your friends who may not have read the obituary to tell them. In fact, I suspect the entire newsletter would be Cedric’s obituary, with a line or two from you, the widow, thanking everyone for their support and condolences.
(One more thing—if your pet passed away, please make it clear that it was a PET. Otherwise we get sentences like, “We are still grieving the loss of our beloved Lancelot”—which leads to scrambling through old Christmas cards to try to remember the names of your children. Better you should say, “our beloved Golden Retriever Lancelot” )
I second Eleni’s remarks about photos—we don’t just want to see photos of your adorable grandchildren, we also want to see YOU in photos, so we can judge how well that last facelift is holding up.
That’s all the rules I can think of as I recover from this year’s Christmas card crunch and await what the next few days will bring into the mail box. The only final rule I have is:
Send that holiday card. I want to know about your kids and grandkids and the hip replacement and the 50th high school reunion. And if you don’t send me a card this year, you're off my list next December.