Writing Christmas Cards
Today I wrote twenty Christmas cards. Now for someone who has written a novel in twenty-nine days you might think writing twenty Christmas cards would not be a major feat. You would be wrong. I had to muster the same courage I mustered in writing the novel: pushing back self-doubt to forge a path through the dark forest of limitless possibility, stubbornly refusing to listen to the unceasing chorus of voices proclaiming the futility of my task.
There are lots of ways to do Christmas cards, and I know there are organized people whose computers will print them a complete set of address labels for everyone on their Christmas card list. I know there are cards with a lovely, seasonal wish and even your name printed inside. The whole process could be completed without ever putting pen to paper. Perhaps some day I will achieve this level of Christmas card efficiency. I admire those who already have. In the meantime I will describe the process that led to my particular achievement: twenty cards.
We first dragged the (teenage) children out onto the front steps to pose for the picture between the columns that are decorated with pine rope and colored lights. Then I took a huge number of pictures on the digital camera while making off-color remarks to make the freezing children smile for camera. We put the pictures on the computer, chose the best one, had it approved by our daughter. My husband then printed out twenty on card stock, cut them with a paper cutter and called me to fold them in half. Now my work begins.
Who do you send the cards to? I began by sending ones to everyone who had sent us Christmas presents that had landed under our tree. I have overcome an earlier sense of guilt for combining Christmas card and Thank you note. Life is too short for such scruples. Besides, when you’re writing the card on December 26th, is it really still a Christmas card? The question of genres comes up, just as it did when I was beginning my novel.
The efficiency of combining Christmas card and Thank you note was in fact so satisfying that I felt a tiny hesitation in sending my belated Christmas cards to family members who had told me belated Christmas presents were on the way. If I slightly delayed sending their Christmas card, it could perform this efficient double duty. I am proud to say I did not stoop to this level. Those who sent presents late would be rewarded with Christmas cards that were not also Thank you notes. Whether I would successfully meet renewed Thank you note obligations in January would remain to be seen.
After people who sent me presents, I wrote Christmas cards for each of my own siblings and each of my husband’s siblings. Don’t think I wrote lengthy messages to any of them. In most cases I simply wrote out our wishes for the Christmas season and the new year. My husband signed his name on the ones for his family. I wrote “& kids” after our names. After all the children were well represented on the front of the card. They didn’t really need to sign.
Next I wrote Christmas cards for people who had sent us ones. My husband gave me a little pile of envelopes with return addresses on them. Some of the envelopes in this pile were from those efficient people who print out address labels and print cards with name and greeting already included. The children are almost as old as my friends were when I first met them in college. Some of the people in the pile are people whose only connection is through Christmas cards. Will we ever even see each other again? We have busy lives in different states and our only connection is a card once a year, every other year in my case. Does this relationship have a meaning? Is there a point in perpetuating it in this peculiar way?
When the pile of envelopes was transferred to the recycle bin, I still had a few cards left. I started leafing through my Christmas card address book, a book where I keep the addresses of everyone on my Christmas card list. Next to their name I put the year I last wrote them a Christmas card (this is a trick I learned from my mother). Since I never get to everyone on the list in a given year, it is useful to know who is most overdue.
There is Margaret. I met her when we where doing our junior year abroad in Italy. I went to her wedding in Buffalo. She lives in Florida now with her husband. I guess I haven’t seen her for over twenty years. It has been five years since I sent her a Christmas card to her. I write a little message. I remember riding the train to Sienna from Rome and telling each other our life stories. Now this is as much of the story as we can tell for the moment: that our children are growing up…
There is another friend who has gotten divorced since I last sent him a Christmas card. I address it only to him and his two daughters. I remember the first Christmas the girls spent without their mother. I hope the card affirms the continuity of things, even after so much has changed.
There are the cards I send to people who are very old and not in good health. Will they read the cards? Will they see the picture with their weak eyes? Will they remember who I am? Will they be alive next Christmas?
I am running out of cards. What is the point of sending these cards anyway? Couldn’t I just sent e-mails or a wall post of facebook? I could certainly have posted the picture electronically. One sister left to send a card to. Now I’m done.
The twenty little cards will go out from our house. They will travel to twenty addresses and they will bring this message of Christmas which is mostly just a message of faith. These things that are pointless become meaningful by the very act of doing them. Each card represents a little victory over the blank page, the un-mailed letter. Suddenly I feel I could be inspired to write twenty more next week.