edward gorey cartoon

One of my all-time favorite Edward Gorey holiday cards

For many of us, the winter holidays have changed from a time of pleasant relaxation, quiet celebration, humble gratitude and once-a-year-special treats into a carnival of frenzied activity, regret-filled gluttony, fretful spending and massive angst. The transformation timeline is remarkably consistent with our passage into adult territory, where weighty responsibilities crush joyful traditions.

We lament the pressure we feel to create perfect holiday homes—catalog-quality décor, magazine-perfect menus, and flawless family gatherings. Preparing for the holidays has become a stressful and frenetic series of errands, through crowds and traffic, leaving the celebrants spent—along with their cash.

The ensuing celebrations and gift-exchanges can be fraught with opportunities to overeat, or surround ourselves with friends and family whose behavior makes us angry, sick or crazy—and we end up looking back on the holidays with resentment. Still, we look forward to the season, every year hoping that this is the year the magic will return.

This year, I’m taking my own advice and paring back.  It was easy to say no to a tree–we have no children, we have two cats, trees belong in the ground, and I don’t want to have to water One More Plant. One of the hardest decisions was to forego sending holiday cards, which until now, I’ve considered mandatory in order to be a good human being or friend-in-good-standing.  I devised this quiz to question my own feelings of dread and inadequacy that begin when the first card arrives in my mailbox in early December, sent by some super-organized defect-free human (whom I love and hate in that moment in equal degree).

Let me know how you score, so I can feel better (or worse) about myself.

Is It OK To Skip The Christmas Cards This Year?

Take this quiz to determine whether you are exempt from sending holiday cards:

Do you love taking the time to write a short note to everyone on your holiday card list?

Yes                  No

Do you savor the solitary moments spent composing your note, fondly recalling the good times you’ve had with each person?

Yes                  No

Do you regard that time as a way to feel relaxed and happy, and to recognize how loved you are?

Yes                  No

Do you write each note with a sense of gratitude for having that person in your life?

Yes                  No

Do you envision yourself writing holiday cards in the most perfect holiday scenario you can imagine?

 Yes                  No

If you have answered yes to these questions, you are fortunate, like my friend Nancy who, unbidden, recently waxed joyful at the prospect of sitting down with a cup of tea and writing to all her loved ones.  If you’re like Nancy, it makes sense that you look forward to writing those cards every year.  Put me on your list, and begin celebrating.

For those of you who, like me, do not have such heartwarming associations with sending greeting cards, read on.

For years, I felt obligated to send holiday cards to everyone I ever met. It felt necessary, as a corporate sales executive, to make sure my holiday card arrived along with the competitor’s. Besides, my marketing department said so.   But the thought of sending hundreds of them, hand-signed and addressed, made November feel like a prison sentence. Very “shackles on.”

Once I left the corporate world, my list got a lot shorter, and it was no longer a marketing task, but it still felt like work to me. I had a host of justifications for not sending them—the expense, the environmental impact, the potential for insincerity—but the truth is that bulk mailings do not nourish my soul. So I tried a few strategies until I found one that worked for me.

Holiday Card Strategy One: Buy a box of cards, but don’t send a single one.

This worked for me when I wanted to tell myself a story about how I had the best of intentions, but was simply too busy. After all, they don’t go bad. I can always use them next year.

Holiday Card Strategy Two: Buy another box of cards at a deep discount the day after Christmas.

At these prices, it makes sense to hold on to them until the next year, when I’m sure I’ll have more time. I’ll just plan better.

Holiday Card Strategy Three: Stare at the growing pile of unused holiday cards, and vow not to purchase any more until these are gone. Wonder how to get rid of them, short of throwing them all in the recycle bin.

This was the strategy that led to a solution:

When I receive cards from friends, relatives, acquaintances and businesses, I consider whether that person has taken extra time to reach out to me personally, or if they seem to be fulfilling an annual obligation. If it feels as though they’ve made a special effort, or I want them to know I’m specifically thinking of them, I reciprocate with a hand written holiday card from the stack on my stationery shelf. If it’s someone I want to connect with right away, I pick up the phone and call. Spending a few minutes chatting is enough to create a connection over the holidays, and often leads to making plans to meet with cherished friends for a glass of cheer.

I end up sending about a dozen cards—a task that feels small enough, and worthwhile enough, to add to my holiday to-do list.

I have to assume that the people who send me cards do so because sending cards gives them pleasure, not because they expect reciprocation. This particular thought feels much better than the one where I think I’m a lousy friend for not sending a card. I’ve made the choice to believe that other people are behaving in alignment with what brings them joy, so it doesn’t matter whether I respond in kind.

So if you haven’t gotten a card from me, please know that I loved getting your card, I love you, and I cherish our friendship, all year long.

What would feel like a reasonable solution to you? How might you make sending holiday cards meaningful, fun, or at least bearable?

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