The Christmas Card Quandary: To Send or Not To Send?


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“If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
— From Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

Every year about this time I wrestle with the idea of sending out holiday cards. My questions range from the petty (should we keep sending to the So-and-Sos even though it appears we’ve been dropped from their list?) to the profound (what are we trying to say or achieve through our greetings and what does it have to do with Christmas?) Is sending Christmas cards something we do because we think we should or is it a meaningful piece of tradition that brings us closer to the spirit of Christmas?

The Card
Let’s assume you are going to send holiday cards. (We will look at the larger questions of what it all means later.) The first hurdle is selecting what type of card you will send. You can choose from the boxed cards with cozy images of happy families, the religious motifs or snowy scenes of winter and Santa. Our cards, ever since the boys came along, are photos of them.

Each year, as I peruse the pictures we’ve taken, the boys freckled and sun-kissed at the beach, I feel a bit embarrassed, maybe guilty, at our riches, our health, our good fortune and luck. Are we spreading the joy of the season or just celebrating ourselves through our Christmas cards?

There have been moments in my life when other people’s good fortune seemed to point out what I lacked. Specifically, during the years we struggled to get pregnant, it seemed our mailbox brimmed with Christmas cards from pregnant friends or pictures of their newborn babies. And, honestly, I sometimes felt sad. Somewhere inside I was genuinely happy for our friends and their growing families, but their cards and pictures were reminders that everyone else had what I wanted. I am sure that not one sender of those cards wished to hurt us, and many of our friends who knew of the years and the miscarriages probably mailed their cards to us with a twinge of sadness, too.

This experience has lingered with me, as I flip through the photos of our children lush with good health and the happiness that this implies. What I have come to see and understand, however, as I speed into middle age, is that every life has a story, every family has its sadness and connecting in whatever way with others, through the smiles of my children or a store-bought card, is one way to share the journey.

To Write or Not to Write
I have never written a newsy letter to include with our holiday cards. I suppose this is because our good friends and families know the things I would wish to put in such a letter: achievements, milestones, losses and humorous anecdotes about our lives. Do I fear that it would be too much information for the acquaintances and far flung others on our list? Or, am I, again, afraid of flaunting the good things?

I enjoy the letters that others send us, even if we sometimes dissect them to read between the lines (“We finally finished remodeling our kitchen,” — those two never agree on anything! “We went to China and adopted a baby girl,” — we can only imagine all the sadness that preceded this joyful event). I very much appreciate letters that express a thanks for good fortune; on the flip side, letters where I detect a bragging tone are hard for me to swallow.

Sometimes we receive Christmas cards without a handwritten word on them. I flip them over looking for something — even a quick Hi! — written in the sender’s hand. From the envelope to the greeting to the signature, all has been pre-printed. These cards are so impersonal as to make me almost wish we hadn’t received them. Is that Bah-Humbug of me? Perhaps, and I do try to remember it is the thought that counts.

Part of the process of sending cards is adding my own personal note on each card, no matter how brief a message I write.

The List
I wonder about the people we haven’t heard from in years; have we been dropped from their list or are they not sending cards anymore? Are they trying to tell us something? Should we stop sending to them? In writing this essay, I have had the epiphany that we won’t cross people off our list, even if we don’t hear from them anymore. I would rather assume that circumstances or other priorities have interfered with their sending holiday cards. One of the most disappointing parts of sending out cards for me is when a card comes back from the post office, stamped No Forwarding Address. We’ve lost track of people, lost track of the path of their lives, and that leaves an empty feeling.

Guilt or Joy?
Sending out holiday cards, to be sure, can feel like one more pressure of the season. Every year I vow to simplify Christmas. Every year I toy with the idea of NOT sending cards. Every year . . . we send cards.

Why? Why is this ritual, one that I dread a bit, a ritual I cannot let go of? In thinking about this I come around to this thought: Christmas, if it signifies anything, signifies the power of one person to bring joy and light to many. What if we all became messengers of peace and love? Participating in the rituals of the season, instead of being a cynical bystander, is for me, the way to embody the spirit of Christmas. Christmas comes at a dark time of the year, and for many it can be a lonely and sad time. Sending Christmas cards is one way of connecting with people, sharing the experience, although brief, of being here on earth.

Maybe Scrooge said it best . . . “Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo.”

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Vicky Fish is a freelance writer and mother of three boys.

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