For the last 20 years, every mid-November, is the time when I begin to think about what Christmas card I’m going to send out. Until this year. This year I questioned whether it made sense. Both my sons are now officially in college and I was feeling a little awkward about sending out cards with images of essentially two, basically young men.
I texted my empty nest friends for input. “At what point do you stop sending cards?”
The responses were only mildly helpful:
“Sending again this year, even though the pic is terrible.”
“I still send. It’s a dying art, but I’ll stay with it.”
I like even numbers and decided that since this would mark the 20th year, I’d go ahead and send ‘em and decide next year if I’ll continue.
Holiday cards are a way to broadcast your family
Living in Darien, Connecticut, an affluent town an hour outside of New York City, you’re living in the Perfect Family Major Leagues. For young, anxious, aspirational moms, holiday cards present that once-a-year analog opportunity (beyond Instagram and Facebook) to broadcast to the world what beautiful, enviable-looking children you have and, by default, of course an enviable, ideal family.
There are heavy questions that ensue when you are in the throes of designing this important card: Vertical or horizontal? Foil or no foil? What card stock? Can you photoshop that one imperfection out without notice? A single photo or do you show off just how busy and colorful your kids’ lives are with multiple photos? (Late one evening over wine, my friend had me dying laughing as she ranted on this topic, insisting she didn’t want to see 100 tiny photos – you need to choose just one.)
In the early years the card project turned olympic
In the early aughts, when my boys were babies, many of us ordered personalized cards at the stationary store and/or bought high-end cards with slots where we could add our physical photos. (The online Shutterfly/Tiny Prints/Minted cards came later.) Those who were really fancy, got cards that included a velvet ribbon. To make this card project as onerous as possible, I somehow decided I should handwrite both the recipients’ names and addresses and our return address. Adding the ribbon one year, the project turned olympic.
Like leaflets, I used to send out as many as 250 cards. No one was safe: my friends from high school, college and work, my husband’s friends from high school, college and work, our families, the bus driver, their teachers, the kids’ friends’ families, classmates’ families, babysitters, housekeepers. If someone was in our orbit in any small way, they got one.
It was hard to capture a great picture when the kids were little
Early on in this high achieving town, I was, in general, caught up with the pursuit of looking the part. That noted, there was an especially forgettable year after we first moved there. I stuffed my little cherubs into thick, precious sweaters from a local boutique and propped them up like dolls on a creme velvet sofa in the living room, shoving it near the window to capture the natural light.
Like many babies, Jack was gently gnawing on his fist and blocking his face. And he and his brother Charlie wouldn’t look straight at me at the same time – like trying to take photos of two geckos.
I got frustrated at a point and barked at Jack to keep his hand down and he started bawling. My anxious pleading – rooted in the fear of not getting that perfect photo of my perfect children, which might reveal to the town that I was not perfect – caused him to bawl more. (Ah, the irony!)
It was a joy to send and get holiday cards
Year after year, on family outings or after a family photo session, my husband, Joe and I would exclaim about a photographic moment, “That’s the holiday card this year!” And we got some good ones – by a covered bridge, standing beside the classic-looking snowman, the boys in tuxes at their cousin’s wedding standing near the dugout at Yankee Stadium.
Many of us keep up with the cards, in part, thanks to the tangible payback. December’s mail can bring little gifts every day. The people I sent the cards to were sending them to me, too. It’s so rewarding. It was such a joy to see the array of envelopes and return address labels, the vast card designs and the photos that captured how people’s kids were growing. I would craft an annual mosaic of holiday cards, displaying them on the glass cabinet doors lining one side of our family room.
I always ordered some extra cards that I’d refer to as “volley cards.” (You know you did too!) Those are the ones you send to people who send you a card but you would have otherwise not sent them one. You don’t want to appear to be rude, so you quickly drop one in the mail in kind. It can get tricky and awkward, however, when other folks’ cards show up so close to Christmas. If your volley card is apt to arrive after the holiday, it’s obvious to both parties that they weren’t on your list.
After my separation the holiday card required a pivot
When the boys were 12, the cards required a pivot. Their dad and I split (amicably). The gig was up. We were not a perfect family. When the card said “Love the Yurmans, Jeanne, Jack and Charlie” and no Joe, everyone would know. So I embraced the change and started including photos of the three of us often with the dog.
I’ll admit, I was still striving to a degree. But every year, I found myself caring fractionally less about the cards. My sendee list became shorter and instead of investing hours searching for and designing the ideal card online, I’ve been on a journey in the “good enough” zone.
Funny thing is, I think I’ve dropped off many people’s lists and I now may be the volley card recipient in many cases. And I understand there are plenty of ladies out there who have tapped out and are no longer sending cards, so not even the volley card’s coming. But between getting divorced and moving to the town next door after 17 years, the mail brings far fewer cards than in the past.
I polled my friends as to whether I should continue to send cards
Of the friends I asked about when to stop sending cards, one gave me definitive input: “Keep sending! You can send cards that aren’t pic cards. When you stop, you stop getting.”
Though, then my question to myself is, do I really want to continue getting cards that are quite possibly “volley” cards? And how long do we all send each other photos of our adult children? The sending-holiday-cards tradition is one that, despite mild hypocrisy and (not to mention healthy cost), I’d miss. But it does seem like it’s one that’s coming to a close.
Maybe this year is it. Maybe it’s not. Instead of my boys donning boutique sweaters propped up on a living room couch, this year’s photo is a simple one – just me and my guys, not hiking the mountains in Norway or Utah’s national parks. Just walking the dog, two of us wearing sunglasses. Might be my favorite card ever.
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