An entire sub-genre of comic films and fiction make bank because this time of year has become for so many people nothing more than a season of weary obligation, stress, and exploding credit card debt. As kids, we may lie awake fearing that Santa Claus has weighed the evidence and judged us naughty. But as adults, we quake in contemplation of a vague but terrifying litany of list-related penalties far worse than a lump of coal in a stocking.* Consider, oh Constant Reader, the social or professional consequences of omitting someone from the greeting card list — assuming you still bother with that — or the holiday party evite. I bet plenty of people fear the terrible price of these sins of omission more than they fret about being overlooked themselves.
Or so I must assume, because I’ve received a particularly half-assed smattering of Christmas cards this yuletide. (See here, Old Boy: Did you write a little missive in my Christmas card? Then relax. I'm not talking about you.)
I know I shouldn’t take it personally. You’re just not even trying any more,are you? That's about you, not me. At least I hope it is.
Permit me to assist, ye hapless card-senders.
First, the obvious: If you’re only going to sign your name beneath some merry, happy boilerplate, save the trees and save the stamp. Silence might make me suspect you don’t care, but your dutiful, list-checking approach to what has become a sad sham of a correspondence confirms it.
Those of you who sent photos of you and your spouse at some marginal vacation spot have, I grant you, furnished more raw data about your present situation than a preprinted message of seasonal bromides would. But somehow the photo-card feels even less personal if you don’t write anything. I mean, if I got a look at you on the street, and you saw me see you but said nothing, that is a snub, is it not?
Sending photos of your kids, well, that’s a whole different thing. Your offspring are the most interesting thing in the world, I know. This is an entirely explicable and proper delusion for you to have. That’s how nature made us. And if the fruit of your loins have now been treading the boards of this stage called life for a few years, and are finally starting to manifest something like distinct personalities and appearances, a photo makes perfect sense. They’ll look different at this time next year. Fine. Magnets do not stick to my refrigerator -- this is a matter of the fridge's construction, rather than of my preferences in home decor -- but by all means, send the picture.
All this nostalgia for the vanished courtesy of a handwritten epistle, however brief, makes me yearn for something I never thought I could miss: the family newsletter. Those may have been identical for each recipient, but at least they offer some reportage vis-à-vis the family fortunes in the expiring annum, and usually more than one photo. I didn’t get a one this year. They’re going the way of paper mail, it seems. And newspapers. So humbug.
Bottom line, sending and receiving cards can be great fun, but no one's forcing you to play. If it's a chore, spare thyself. But if do you wish observe this tradition, let us remember the immortal words of the carpenter from Nazareth whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day: "Do or do not. There is no try."
And of course, please accept my most sincere, personal, intimate and heartfelt wishes to you for a prosperous, joyful and fulfilling 2010. Whomever you are.
*In Western Pennsylvania, where I spent Christmas, they love coal.