I have great memories of looking through my mother’s Christmas card list. Looking through those names and addresses was part of the Christmas ritual.
We had old family friends named Helen and Henry who lived in the town with the lovely name of Maple Shade, New Jersey, on the street amusingly named Forklanding Road. We sent cards to Uncle John and Aunt Bessie who lived on Rochambeau Avenue in the Bronx. Uncle John was my grandfather’s brother but I have no memory of actually meeting him and Aunt Bessie in real life. Still, I marveled at their exotic address. Why was it “the Bronx” and not just “Bronx?” And how elegant Rochambeau Avenue must be! I pictured it as French, with ladies walking poodles past sidewalk cafes. My mother’s Christmas card list was a family history document, a collection of names and addresses of relatives near and far, old and new friends from various phases of their life.
I sometimes feel defensive about clinging to the habit of sending out paper cards. A lot of people think that sending Christmas cards is a waste of time, paper and postage, and that it’s totally unnecessary in the age of electronic communication. Every December, newspapers, magazine, blogs, etc., are full of articles about how to simplify Christmas, and it seems that reconsidering the sending of paper cards is always one of the first suggestions.
And I’m just fine with that — if you take no joy from sending Christmas cards, don’t do it. I remember the days when the sending of Christmas cards was a social obligation, and people worked hard to maintain their Christmas card lists. I remember people checking off names as people received cards — if someone who you didn’t send a card to sent you one, you were supposed to quickly send one out to them, and if someone you sent cards to didn’t reciprocate for two years, you could safely drop them from your list. Or at least this was what the advice columns said: my mother was not the type to be checking lists and dropping names. But in those days, the same kind of people who today care about how many Facebook friends they have measured their popularity by the number of Christmas cards they received.
But it doesn’t need to be like that. We should all send as many Christmas cards as we want, which might be fifty one year, zero the next and twenty the following year. Who’s counting? We should all graciously receive whatever cards we happen to receive, and send whatever we feel like sending — which for a lot of people is none. When you see Christmas cards as obligations, and associate them with pride on the one hand or guilt on the other, you’ve lost the spirit of the season.
I’ve always liked sending cards as a small way to keep in touch with people who are important to me. This includes some people who I see all the time or perhaps communicate with frequently via e-mail, Facebook, etc. There are also a few people who I mainly keep contact with through the annual Christmas card — sad, perhaps, but better than nothing, and just writing their names and addresses once a year reminds me of the good times we’ve shared. I wish I could say that I individually select cards for each person and wrote thoughtful little notes on each card, but I don’t. I just buy UNICEF cards, sign them and send them, most years anyway, and I hope that people I care about don’t sit around wondering why they did or didn’t get a card from me this year.
And whether by card, e-mail, Facebook, or just a good thought, I wish all my friends a merry Christmas and/or a Happy New Year!