I love Christmas cards. They are a tradition that is waning as electronic communication takes over. I remember when my Christmas card wall would be covered with dozens of cards before December was over. These days I’m fortunate if we end up with ten.
Yet I know that Christmas cards are complicated. They seemed simple when I first got married. I just took a mailing list, printed out a cheerful letter, and dropped them all into the mail. I liked doing it. I liked reaching out an connecting with people whom I may have lost contact with during the prior year. I liked that each card carried an invisible message “I’m thinking of you.” Though at that younger age, I may have been less aware that the message was muted by my mass mailing approach.
Then I arrived in 1999. That was the year where I went through radiation therapy to kill a tumor in my neck that was not cancerous, but kept growing back. The radiation sapped my health and sent me into a depression. By fall things were better, but then in early December Howard took himself to the emergency room with chest pain and ended up in the cardiac ICU because he had myocarditis. I still hadn’t sent out my annual Christmas letter, and I couldn’t bear to write one. What would I say? “Merry Christmas from the hospital. Howard will probably be fine eventually, but we’re in crisis right now?” That was the first year I didn’t send a letter at all. I sat in Howard’s hospital room and signed the cards “Love The Taylers” then dropped them into the mail.
2000 was a better year for us, Howard and I both recovered fully and we’d launched Schlock Mercenary. 2004 was when I gave up mass mailing Christmas cards at all. We’d just quit Novell and money was very tight for the next few years. I let Christmas cards fall off my December to do list.
I miss them. I miss getting bright colored seasonally appropriate art in the mail. I loved the year that I got an Eid Al Fatr card. Yet I find that this year I feel about writing a Christmas letter approximately what I felt in 1999. I would have to choose between being appropriately upbeat for the holiday and being truthful about how this past year has felt for me. So I’ve compromised. I just spent an hour writing The Christmas Letter I Will Not Send. It tells of all the medical appointments and mental health issues. It talks about joy and bright spots that are all mixed up with stress and pain. It goes on for three pages with far more personal information than acquaintances are likely to want. Writing it was really good for me to do. It helped me see my year in summary, and I can see that it qualifies as a good year because we are all stronger and better than we were at the beginning. Most of it was not fun, but I’m not sorry for it. Writing the letter helped me see this in ways that I had not before. I suspect that most Christmas letters matter far more to the person who writes them than to anyone who reads them.
With that letter written and stored on my hard drive, I find that I still want to reach out to friends and family. So I will be sending out some Christmas cards. Each one will have a handwritten note. They aren’t trying to catch people up with all the events of my year. They just express love and gratitude to the recipient. I don’t know how many I’ll do, time and energy are in limited supply, but the ones I’ve done so far have made me happy. I’ll do a few more as I find time until I run out of December.
May you find the holiday traditions that bring you joy and let go of the ones that don’t.