Part two of an occasional series
I do not like opening the mail. In fact, when J travels, the mail usually sits on the hallway shelf for days until he returns and picks it up. He loves mail, so I leave it all for him to open. Truly, if someone wanted to send me anthr@x, she would have to find a more effective method than the postal service.
There are, however, certain exceptions. I am in charge of baby announcements and wedding invitations. (Lately we seem to only be getting the former; everyone got married while I was delivering children.) I record the birth dates, send the baby gifts, and coo over the pictures. I caress the wedding invitations and sigh as I imagine what the wedding will be like before replying that, no, sadly we cannot make a transatlantic flight with a newborn for a wedding on Rosh Hashanah. I peruse the registries, deciding whether the bride is too much of a klutz to be trusted with fine china and then choosing the gift we most want to picture the happy couple using.
And, I am in charge of holiday cards. I adore holiday cards, even the absurdly Christmasy ones. I read every last word of every last family holiday letter, no matter how many single-spaced pages it may be. I pore over the pictures, deciding which parent which child has started to resemble and which little girl is too beautiful to be allowed out of the house when she reaches the tween years. I arrange the cards for display all around the living room, balancing those picture-postcard thingies against the sturdier, two-sided ones.
Two of my favorites arrived in 2004. First, from my friend C, who lives in DC but has a husband originally from Boston. Their two little boys were featured on the cover, dressed in all their Red Sox finery, and inside the card read “We believed.” The second card came from our neighbors just across the street. Also originally from Boston, E is an artist, so she made a cover that had the words “Red Sox” etched into snowflakes. Inside, it simply read “2004, the year hell froze over.”
If someone wanted to send me anthr@x, holiday cards might be her only opportunity. I love how the pour in from around the U.S. and beyond. Texas, Florida, North Carolina. I love how they bring tidings from people we have not seen in half a decade. California, Vancouver, Iowa. I love how they remind me of people I have cared for and still hold a tiny place for in my heart. Massachusetts, South Carolina, Georgia. I love how they keep that little thread of connection between old friends. New Jersey, Virginia, Germany. I love when new friends are added, a promise of becoming old friends in time. New York, Wisconsin, Indiana.
Our holiday card list runs to the hundreds. We move so much and we keep adding people. We never seem to subtract. At last count, the list covered about 300 people and a quarter of the states. It got to the point where we could no longer write out each card and we began ordering pre-printed ones with a whole letter inside and a picture of our progeny on the cover. Even that is time-consuming, what with getting the right picture, composing the letter, and updating all the addresses. And you do not need me to explain how expensive it can run.
Yet, I kept doing it. I loved the idea of connecting to old friends, colleagues, and teachers. I loved the old-fashionedness of it all. My lazy, cheap self was competing with my extroverted, longing-for-connections self, and my lazy, cheap self was losing. Even when I wanted to stop, I felt guilty, as though people would be angry we had stopped. We had entered a social system, and I sort of felt like we were not allowed to exit. It was the Jean-Paul Sarte holiday card dilemma.
Those of you who know me IRL will stop at this point and wonder. “I haven’t gotten a card from them in years. Am I the only one who has been cut off the list?” No, honey, you’re not. Because my lazy, cheap self found an ally: my environmental self.
Holiday cards take paper. They take energy to produce. They take fuel to deliver. They create piles of waste when the season is over. My environmental self took on my guilty self, leaving my lazy, cheap self the clear victor. So, we stopped sending holiday cards. And birthday cards, because you know I was also sending out well over 100 of those a year.
We do send out birth announcements and a card with a picture, an update, and a new address every few years when J’s company uproots us and lands us in another country. But, the era of holiday cards is over. Maybe a group email…
I hope I still get a few family holiday letters, just for old time’s sake.