The annual dilemma – the Christmas card list. To send or not to send. Who has made the list this year and who hasn’t. Send to local friends or only those outside a geographically defined area? Are acquaintances defined as friends and if you send one to them will they be embarrassed if you aren’t on their radar?
These days ecards, email and every social media on the planet, together with the notorious slowness of postal services across the globe, give us options beyond the much loved Christmas card for connecting with loved ones at Christmas.
It’s enough to have you reaching for the glühwein.
Growing up, everyone I knew lived in the same country (except for a dear great-aunt who eloped with her sister’s husband to Canada), mostly in the same town. Cards would be sent to everyone – family, friends, neighbours, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and even the postman himself. He would be expecting his ‘Christmas Box’ too, usually in currency form. (A Christmas Box in the UK is a small gift, often money, as a festive ‘thank you’ to various people like the milkman and the trash collectors. Not to be confused with seasonal attire worn by cricketers.)
Those were the days when writing the Christmas cards really was a marathon, each lovingly covered in perfect handwriting with a personalised note and a brief update on the family, censored according to who the missive was sent to.
Aged relatives were not party to the more graphic details of our family life in case of cardiac arrest. Such detail was saved for dear friends who appreciated the annual antics of our off-spring, having regular traumas with their own.
Cards received would be lovingly appreciated and incorporated into the festive decor. Some years cards would be grouped by colour, some years by type – a selection of nativity scenes here, the more secular there. Cards from family and close friends would always make the cut for the oscar winning position on the mantel piece. Although there were times when an unexpected draft of air catapulted across the room, causing cards to hurl themselves into the fireplace with spectacular results.
Living in New Orléans each Christmas was enhanced by a visit to the Hallmark shop, where cards for every occasion could be purchased. Contained within them the perfect sentiments, expressing the exact nuance you needed in the seasonal messages, written in the finest ink across the creamy texture of the rigid, yet velvety, card.
I have been known to weep in Hallmark, finding words that touched the heart, warmed the spirit or said, so eloquently, the very thing I wanted to, but couldn’t find my own words for. I would leave the store having spent a fortune on the perfect card for the perfect person, exhausted, emotionally drained and financially much poorer.
There was my book – actually the back of my diary – where I would list the cards mailed out each year and check off those we received back. For years it was finely balanced, a soothing balm to my soul. I fully accept just how sad this is, but such balances in life affirm the rightness of things, so I make no apology for my slightly obsessive behaviour.
Cards would be sent to people I wouldn’t see from one Christmas to the next. The two women who gave birth at the same time as me, who I haven’t seen since we left the hospital clutching our respective bundles of joy. We remain connected by maternal ties and every year share an update on our eldest offspring and exchange news on subsequent children none of us have met. Teachers who were particularly kind to my children. Mothers of boyfriends I had in my teens. Neighbours I knew as a child who are now elderly and often alone.
That was then and this is now. The world has changed and us along with it. I have no Hallmark shop. Hallmark have cards I can buy here in the Netherlands, but not a great selection and most aren’t in English, so we have faced the need to adapt and move with the times. Finally.
There has also been the issue of posted mail which seems to take forever. Last year was the final straw, when several cards were returned via New York because they had ‘insufficient postage’. Oh no they didn’t – along with my Christmas card list I have a set of small scales, accurate to one gram, on which I weigh each card.
The returned cards caused much anguish. Would their intended recipients believe they had been culled from my Christmas card list and blacklist me from their own? Would they make allowances for ‘lost or returned mail’? Would they give a damn either way?
Christmas 2011 has been an attempt to get the balance right. I have abandoned hand written notes and returned to the computer generated Christmas letter, something I vowed never to do after 2006. The problem was this well thought out plan to save time caused a fiscal one. The weight of each card and envelope required only one international stamp, insert the Christmas letter and the needle on the scales wobbled into the excess zone, where two stamps were necessary. (Note to self – buy smaller cards next year.)
Did everyone really have to have a letter? In the end I elected to save postage on some cards by emailing the letter. Is this an acceptable thing to do? Who knows, I was past caring.
My local friends in the Netherlands rarely exchange cards – by the time they’ve mailed buitenland (international), europa (countries within europe) the stress of mailing binnenland (inside the Netherlands) is too much. Cards are therefore not usually exchanged, although I love to give ones to my close friends.
This morning I met with three of them for coffee, we laughed, chatted, embraced and exchanged our cards. We may have the internet, Facebook, Twitter, texting and skype but nothing, nothing at all, beats time spent with friends opening our Christmas cards and creating real memories.
Four nationalities away from home creating traditions together. Can’t beat it.