Most days the thrill of going to the mailbox has been replaced with a sense of tedium. For the majority of the year, opening that little door reveals junk mail and bills. Half of it goes in the recycling bin, the other half goes in the ugh-gotta-pay-this pile. Gone are the days when we used to write letters to each other, or send nice notes just because. Let’s face it, the outside of the box may be decorated with a seasonal wrap — or if you are in Florida, the whole box may be in the shape of a manatee – but inside is a dark and boring pile of blah. Until December. Now I’m like an excited kid eager to open that door (or more accurately, send my husband out in the cold to fetch the contents). Sure, the junk mail and bills keep coming, but mixed in, like some sort of old-school traditional treasure hunt, are holiday cards.
Even in our crazy immediate-gratification digital world filled with Instagram, Snapchat and Text messages, many of us still cling to the art of sending a printed greeting, in an envelope, with an actual stamp on it, to brighten a loved one’s day.
I love this tradition for a couple of reasons. First, I know that behind every card is a Real Woman who added holiday cards to her To Do list. Ok, ok, guys, I know there are a handful of you out there who may send them out on your own (and trust us, we are touched and appreciative), or who step in to help the women in your life with the addressing, stuffing and sealing (my BFF calls this porn for women). But for the most part, the women in the world are planning in advance to make it all happen. It is an arduous task, yet we continue to take it on, telling our family to dress in similar colors and pose casually for a photo shoot…. or staying up late to sort through all the images on our computers from the past year to find the best ones… making the decision to pick a card that says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, and whether to go with lighthearted sentiment or go all-in on faith and seriousness…Deciding whether or not to include an update letter, a simple quick note, or to just go with the imprinted salutation. Of course there is the list updating, the changing of addresses, the printing of labels or handwriting the envelopes. Then the trip to the Post Office to get stamps where again we face a decision of the right design and message. All a multi-step process, and I am impressed by everyone of us who pull it off every year.
I’m also impressed by the R.W.’s out there who decide to not send cards. To take that one thing off their list. I did that once, a few years back. And as we learn from the Grinch, it didn’t keep Christmas from coming. Deciding against that one “must do” might make the difference between stress and calm.
The other big reason why I love receiving the cards, and why I too spend some late nights sending out our own, is for the sheer variety we get. Each one in its own way mirrors something about the sender. If it is a photo card, it is fun to see how the family members have changed, or be impressed by the perfectly adorable and magically posed children or pets. A collage of photos is like a short tour through their past year. If it is a more traditional card, I enjoy the art, the style, and how it matches the person. Very few include handwritten notes anymore, and those that do seem extra special. My favorite card received this year was the very first one to arrive. It was from my 98-year old Aunt, who hand-wrote her message inside. Amazing and magical.
As for update letters, these are a source of amusement for me. I am highly entertained by the novelettes I receive that extol a seemingly perfect life. We all have people in our lives who have climbed Mount Everest, had a child graduate summa cum laude from Harvard, or who is starring in a tv role…. Or at least their letters lead us to believe life is that amazing. A few years back, in contrast, I penned a “real story” letter to a select few friends and family that covered our year’s worth of reality and dysfunction. That tell-it-like-it-is letter is now one of our traditions.
As I look at the row of cards hanging in the doorway to our living room, I appreciate that each one is unique and different…just like the people who sent them. Can you imagine how boring it would be if they were all the same, and if we were all the same as well? That row of festive greetings represents the tapestry of people who make up our lives.
I can’t wait to check the mailbox tomorrow.