I didn't understand the importance of holiday cards until my father's funeral in 2009. Social media grew up beside me. Cards and phone calls were my childhood catch-up protocol. I went to college in high-tech environments and easily gave my life over to emails and virtual cards, trading phone calls for texting and Facebook events for the tedium of Evites or printed RSVP cards. At 33, I perhaps sent a few birthday cards when I happened to remember. Still, beyond that, I tossed it aside along with other holiday traditions.
When my father passed away, it was the last time I saw or intend to see most of the extended family members. My relationship with them just...wasn't.
Knowing this, it shocked me a bit when I crossed the path of one or two people that I was genuinely touched to see. Most of these qualified as the sort of people the Facebook algorithm likely dumped. I'm known for blocking too many political memes, cat pictures, identity politics memes, or boring city council rants, to be fair. I do teach the little math-bots to ignore a lot of people.
I realized that I might not want to read their day-to-day - social media is fraught with the banal - but I still cared about them. I overheard someone say to a fellow mourner, "I got your Christmas card," and it hit me, oddly, that that's what those cards are for. I knew of the history of calling cards - how people might take their carriages and go round on Sundays to drop in on people and leave their cards behind - and the evolution of the US postal service's impact. The meaning behind continuing such archaism didn't hit home until I realized, at my father's funeral, that that little extra act of connection tightened friendships in a way that hitting thumbs up on a post never will.
This comes up not only because it's the holiday season but because holiday cards are a complex, important, and inconsistent task for me these days. Last year I gathered the addresses, I bought the cards, and I just couldn't even get myself to print out the labels and sign my name. I hurt too much at the time to evince any cheer, and I don't believe in public displays of false emotions when they can at all be helped.
In 2020, it seemed important to do them, but it remains a fraught task: I have people on the list who want to know what the hell happened to the person I signed the cards with back in 2018. My new partner couldn't quite sign them - a hand injury prevents it - and were a bit miffed that the dog got more text time than they did. (My reasons are complex, and my friends tend to like dogs before they trust new people, especially with my track record, and I wanted to keep the letter down to one page.) I published a book, and I managed to finish another in the middle of the global madness - I do want them to know. Why? Because even if I am talking about my own life, it's a light in the darkness. It's a small, tangible thing that someone else can hold on to, even if they might not attach the meaning I put into assembling and sending out those cards.
My partner understands my need to send holiday cards but finds them nonplussing. They never know what to do with the cards when done. While my grandparents set an example by finding a wall hanging with pockets that held all the cards, notes, and letters they enjoyed, this is not a common practice. I choose not to emotionally invest in what happens to the cards after I send them - I assume most wind up in the garbage. But upon reflection, I would suggest the following:
Use the cards as book covers for bookmaking/ personal journal making.
Create a scrapbook for those that have personal notes scrawled in the front. It doesn't need to be a fancy scrapbook; I got by for years just throwing things into an adhesive photo album with no artistry to it whatsoever.
Punch holes in them, and tie a ribbon through - you have Solstice tree ornaments for the next year.
Use wall magnets and bring them out for holiday decorations in the following years.
I went so far as to assemble a Pinterest board just to explore the repurposing options of these cards.
I have these thoughts, including what to do with cards. Why the act of just sending them has meaning to me, as I am blending households as part of radical changes to my life in the wake of all that 2020 brought. Whether you keep them or toss them, whether you send them at all - sometimes that little something in the mailbox is what someone needs to see to know that there is someone out there that cards, and while that person may be able to do very little, they can show their caring with this nice gesture that, even if the card is just signed with a name, actually takes a little bit of effort.
Join us on the hour tomorrow night!