'Little paper presents': Christmas cards alive and well

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
Who doesn’t love getting Christmas cards, those “little paper presents that arrive throughout December”? (That wonderful description is courtesy of Emily Wilder Santillo.)
Many people, like the family of Meg and Jay Dees, include Christmas cards in their holiday decorating. The Dees send and receive an abundance of cards, which are proudly displayed in their front foyer. Cards, says Meg, echoing Emily’s sentiment, are “presents that come all month long.”
Cards are “the best mail we can get since people stopped writing real letters or sending postcards,” says Jewell Mayberry. Christmas cards, are, she adds, “ a reason to look forward to going to the mailbox.”
Cindi Graham notes that it’s “nice getting mail that is not a bill or an ad.”
Most people I know are strongly in favor of holiday greeting cards — receiving them, if not sending them — so I was kind of surprised to see this recent tweet from Ashley Judd: “Completely paper free this year for holiday cards…feel good about that!”
I am assuming that Ashley Judd is sending electronic greetings this year for environmental reasons, since I doubt she’s stressing about postage costs. I’m all for being green, but I don’t think that Christmas card-sending is on top of my list of things to stop doing because I love trees. I think a tree would probably much rather end up as a Christmas card than as a paper towel or a solicitation from Bank of America.
Social media and the widespread use of email has lessened the sense of urgency about sending an annual newsy family update, complete with photo. After all, many of us are posting pictures and news on FaceBook.
Still, isn’t it nicer to have a real photo in front of you so you can either tape it around a doorway or post it on the refrigerator where it will catch your eye every time you go for the orange juice?
We don’t get as many cards as we used to, and I wonder if people are like me — full of good intentions but lacking in follow-through — or if I’ve been so slack as a card-sender that I’ve simply been lopped off the lists of people who used to send us cards.
My taste runs to handwritten notes, but I love a good Christmas newsletter as well, and I certainly don’t mind if you brag about your kids or if you’ve sent the same letter to 100 other people. If you manage to be funny, you get extra points. If you make me feel bad about my own life, points are subtracted. You get triple points for including a photo, and if the parents as well as the kids are in the photo, then you get quadruple points.
Oh, and if you’ve painted the card yourself with watercolors, then you’ve just gone off the chart (you know what I mean if you’re lucky enough get a Mark Brincefield Christmas card).
Actually, any card that is handmade or shows evidence of whimsy and creativity is just a wonderful little Christmas bomb in my mailbox, waiting for detonation when I open it up.
“The excitement of receiving them is what motivates me to keep sending ours,” says Margaret Faust.
Photos and photo cards seem to be especially appreciated by everyone. We’re all curious about how other people’s kids are turning out, aren’t we? As Jean Allen points out, “It’s fun to compare children and how other families ‘frame’ their families.”
I wish I had the time to think about “framing” my family. I’m lucky if we’re all together in one spot long enough to beg some stranger to take our picture together.
Jean keeps a collection of her family’s Christmas card photos through the years — a great idea and a fun documentation of how children evolve.
You might be surprised at how many people save every Christmas card they get. “I’ll keep it always,” says writer Sherry Austin, referring to any Christmas card she receives — “unless you happen to be like a business or something.” If that’s the case, she says, “I Frisbee it to the trash can post haste.”
Although it often seems to be women who handle Christmas cards, former Post writer Steve Huffman says he enjoys sending cards, although he points out that he’s not a big fan of e-cards and actually refuses to open them.
Jay Dees also participates in his family’s card sending, and sportswriter Ronnie Gallagher does the honors for his family, always including a letter that manages to be both newsy and hilarious.
Leslie Cataldo admits that her family hasn’t sent cards in a few years — but she treasures the ones they get, displaying the photo cards all year long in two framed corkboards in her kitchen.
Ann Bourque says that she currently sends out cards about every other year. When she does send them, she insists on “old-fashioned actual photo stuck inside a real card” and includes hand-written individual messages.
Some exhausted folks, like Teresa Bolton, have thrown in the towel. “I used to send a card, a family photo and newsletter every year,” Teresa says. “Sadly, I just don’t have the time or energy to do all of that anymore.
Then, there are the over-achievers, like Melanie Miller.
“I address them during Thanksgiving week so I can mail them on December first,” she says.
Some people refuse to send out cards without a personal note.
“It makes me crazy to get a card from someone we never see and they only sign their names — no news,” says Susan Madill. I could not agree more.
Robert Crum sends out cards annually but says his list gets smaller each year.
“I use an image that is a piece of my art work and compose the message or text found inside. As a visual artist, I enjoy coming up with a design, and I still like to see and feel something on paper rather than using electronics or social media, although I do use those, too. “
Photographer Wayne Wright also shares his art during the Christmas season.
He notes that he spent all day several weeks ago printing pictures for his Christmas cards.
“I keep a record on each person that I send a card to each year, so they won’t get a repeat,” he says. “I try to use the most recent image taken during the year. I go for the personal touch. I have had some of my friends take the card out and have them framed.”
Some people, including Debbie Lesley and Meg Dees, point out that if you get a little behind during the busy holiday season, there’s no reason why you can’t send New Year’s greetings.
Many people, like Sheila Brownlow, Susan Griffis and Marietta Smith, limit their card-sending to people they don’t see regularly.
Sheila also sends Rowan Helping Ministries honor cards as gestures to some people in lieu of giving a gift when she doesn’t necessarily want to start a gift-giving tradition that could become burdensome to either party.
Some people, Like Sylvia Andrews and Amy Jones, say they hadn’t sent cards in a few years but have revived the habit.
“I think as I’ve gotten older I appreciate the tradition a lot more,” Sylvia says.
I used to send out four or five dozen cards. I loved selecting just the right one that expressed both warm wishes and — I hoped — some sort of good taste. After we had kids, I would usually include a photo, either of the whole family or of just the kids. A personalized note or letter was a must. It never seemed like a chore. It was always fun to snuggle up on the couch, surrounded by cards, stamps and pictures and eventually produce a thick stack of holiday greetings.
In recent years, the wheels have kind of fallen off my Christmas train, and cards have been one casualty. I always have good intentions (and four or five unopened boxes of cards to prove it), but lately I’m lucky if I get out a dozen.
Doing research for this column has steeled my Christmas card resolve, and seeing the Dees’ rather incredible haul of cards has inspired me.
And if you really want to be inspired, check out the Christmas cards sent by local artists on 6E.
Merry Christmas!