Holiday Cards! Not Just for Your Grandma Anymore . . .
I love sending Christmas cards. Of course, none of them say “Christmas”* on them (because I am a lieutenant in the insidious liberal war on Christ(mas) Muhahahaha! – also a good majority of the people I know are not outwardly religious). Most of the cards sent mention something about having a happy “season” or “merry holidays.” Some just have a picture of a nondenominational snowperson (or person of snow, as my partner and I have been referring to them); this is, however, completely inaccurate for my family and a few of my oldest friends who live in a recovered desert (the last measurable snow fall in Fresno, CA was on December 19, 1998. It was half an inch. People freaked the freak out).
For me it’s not really about Christmas or Hanukkah or Festivus or Agnostic Present Day, I just like sending people cards. I like picking out cards. I like addressing the envelopes. I like putting stickers on the envelope seal. I like picking out special, occasion-appropriate stamps. This is time consuming, which is something else I like about it.
It was maybe the second or third year I had sent this particular friend a card during December, when she emailed me and wrote, “I don’t have to send you one back, right? If it means I do, you can stop sending me cards.” My first thought was yowsa! Someone’s a Grinch. But my next thought was that I really don’t care if I get a card back. Genuinely. I don’t send them because I hope to get them (that’s a shitty – and disappointing – way to go through life). Would I like to receive a card? Absolutely! I LOVE mail. In the wasteful barrage of bills I already signed up to go paperless and coupons for Pizza Hut, a card or letter addressed to me, one that someone took time to fill out (or spent the time to print out a lovely label for – you know who you are) is exciting and heart-warming. I like seeing people’s handwriting. I wish someone on Facebook who I have lost touch with or have never *actually* known, save the sporadic liking of an article or cat picture, would want to be pen pals. Of course I’d enjoy being pen pals with my close friends too, but those relationships and the type of information exchanged often feels more immediate. I guess I want a casual pen pal . . . one who likes being asked questions and asking questions and doesn’t mind getting cheesy envelopes with stickers . . .
I’m getting off track. I’m going to get a holiday cookie. And more coffee.
Okay, here’s an anecdote from this morning to illustrate my real point:
This morning, I took a stack of ready-to-mail holiday cards to the post office. The line was long, almost out the door. It is a HUGE privilege that I was actually able to wait in the line and did not feel super stressed about said wait (as I would have at many other moments in my life, because I had to hurry back to work, I was late for my second job, etc. etc. work, money lost, etc.). While some people in line griped about the wait, others were just chatting with each other. I listened to their banal small talk about the weather and pictures of their grandchildren and found it surprisingly comforting. Many of the people in line were older and sending holiday packages. When I got to the counter, the postal worker was patient as I debated the merits of the seven different holiday stamp options. I bought three books, and then went to one of the tables in the lobby to stamp the envelopes. I picked three different books of stamps so I could most accurately stamp each person’s card. “Okay, they’ve got kids, so they get a Santa stamp. My grandma gets the classy gingerbread house. This lover of terrible pop culture gets a Hermey and Rudolph stamp.” And so on.
Do I expect the person who receives the card to think, “Oh, Sarah remembered that I like overrated, old stop motion animation with a creepy Santa and Abominable Snow Monster!” No.
Do I know that most people probably tear open the envelope (without looking at the stamp), glance briefly at the card, stick it on a shelf for two weeks then recycle it? Yes. At least I hope they are recycling it. I only send recyclable cards.
This sending of cards is definitely about wanting people to feel special and thought of and cared about at the holidays (a rather traumatizing, stressful, and pressure-filled month and a half), but it’s also a personal practice of consideration and giving of time. Like many kind gestures, even when a material object is not given as a reward, there is a selfish, self-centered return. I like doing it. I enjoy it. I hope others like it, and I know some do, but really it is an excuse to slow down, to remind myself to think of others, what makes them unique, maybe how I came to know them and know them well-enough that they generously shared their address so I could bug them with cards they didn’t ask for at holidays and sometimes birthdays.
Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating for people to send more holiday or birthday cards (though I’m sure postal workers would really appreciate that); this post is mostly just sharing how I use this practice as a way to stave off becoming a grumpy(ier) asshole. The potential is always there, hovering under the surface. With each card I send, it gets smaller, like the opposite of the Grinch’s heart.
*Oh, wait. Caveat – We always buy a small pack of actual Christmas cards to send to grandparents, religious aunts, and people we know for a fact are indeed celebrators of the Christian replacement of Saturnalia.