I started sending Christmas cards in November of 1991 which I now realize, with shock and awe, was twenty years ago. My university graduation photos were barely dry, but I was proud to be living in a shared apartment and supporting myself (more or less) on the modest salary of my first, entry level job in marketing. My roommate and I had discarded the standard, starving-student milk crate shelving system in favour of an IKEA model. We had dressed our living room window with a cheap, cotton valence stuffed with tissue paper and invested in colour co-ordinated towels for our bathroom; all in an effort to start living like grown-ups. Sending a batch of Christmas cards was just one more grown-up thing to do.
But it wasn’t until 1998 that my Christmas card list exploded. Fresh off our August wedding, Craig and I had complete addresses for 162 of our closest friends and family, and I was still filled with gratitude for the generous good wishes that they had showered upon us. At the time we lived in a condo. There was no snow shovelling to be done, little space to decorate and Moms on both sides that would take care of the holiday cooking. I had time on my hands and so I was up for the challenge of tackling our huge list. I simply put on some Christmas music, poured myself a brown cow and revelled in the holiday spirit as the pile of heartfelt cards grew beside me.
Since then, I’ve tried to keep up my tradition of Christmas cards. In some cases it would be our only contact that year with far away friends and family, and so I was eager to keep the connection going. But as our family grew, so did the number of traditions we accumulated. One Christmas tree to decorate grew to three; one container of outdoor holiday greens grew to nine; and one batch of favourite cookies grew to six different varieties.
I did my best to maintain my tradition of inscribing holiday cards with personal notes on the dim hope that my friends and family would take this as a signal of how deeply I cared about them. However I had a sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning might have been missed by the recipients. After all, while the first ten or so were full of detail and witty remarks, the next twenty were more general. As time went on, the notes became increasingly brief and littered with plagiarism from my previous missives. By card #56 I was down to: “All is well with us.” I’ve always felt guilty about those last few.
So this year I decided to join the ranks of the standard holiday update letter. Call it a throwback to my years of training in corporate efficiency but standardization seems like a sensible approach to ensuring high quality communications across the board. And as an added bonus, my elderly relatives will no longer be challenged to decipher my sloppy handwriting.
I’ll admit that it has crossed my mind before to take the leap, but my Mother had strong negative feelings about this practice. In her mind, these letters were all about bragging. Little Susie won a prize, Thomas Junior graduated with honours and big Joe lost 40 pounds. None of this went over particularly well in my immediate family where applause was sporadic and always tempered by a healthy dose of: “Don’t get too full of yourself.”
But personally, I have always loved receiving these updates. Especially for families that I see infrequently, it makes me feel closer to them to know what they’ve been up to over the past year. A friend the other day said that she once received an update letter that gave a blow by blow of the many traumas experienced by a particular family over the past year: divorce, sickness, loss. What kind of a holiday greeting is that!? In my humble opinion, if there’s ever a time to sugar coat, Christmas is it!
So if you’re someone who sends me a holiday update letter, keep ‘em coming! And if you’re one of those update letter haters out there, please accept my sincere apologies for the sunny picture painted in my holiday greeting. Would it help if I told you I had a wicked case of hemorrhoids last spring?
Happy holidays everyone!