When I look back on my childhood memories of Christmastime, I, like most of you, can picture how my parents’ house looked in years past. Well, I mean you can probably picture how your parents’ house looked, not mine. And if you can picture what my parents’ house looked like, what the fuck were you doing sneaking around a little kid’s house?
Anyway, I remember the Long Island scene well: the Christmas tree, the lights, the presents, the stockings hung with care (and when care didn’t do the trick, duct tape). But there’s one, more curious piece of decor that cuts through these images like a hot knife through reindeer meat (which I hear isn’t as gamey as you’d think). Every year, my dad and stepmom would snake a long strand of garland up the wall and across an archway in our living room — a fairly standard Christmas accouterment on its own, but along this garland used to hang Christmas cards that my parents had accumulated over the years. Dozens of them, some postmarked far before I was even born.
Who saves Christmas cards like this?, I’d wonder as my childhood waned into my teenage years. Now, as a 30-year-old adult, I find myself asking, Who even sends Christmas cards in the first place? Answer: Not me. Not ever. And as awkward of a thing it is to do, I feel the need to tell my contacts that they shan’t be expecting one from me. I just don’t see the point.
Every year my mailbox is overrun with cards from acquaintances both nearby and far flung. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate the gesture, as well as the time people invest in selecting, signing, stamping, and sending physical greetings through the post — no simple task in this hectic modern life. And, I must admit, I do sometimes get a kick out of the more creative family photos included in such correspondence. For example, good friends of ours (when I say ours, I mean my wife and I) sent us a doctored picture of their toddler son mimicking Macaulay Culkin’s iconic pose in Home Alone — mouth agape and hands pressed to his cheeks — while they, dressed as burglars, glare through an open window. Brilliant. And let’s not forget my childless acquaintances who send shots of themselves posing with their dog or cat. They really do make me smile. But as good as they make me feel, I won’t be returning the favor.
It’s not that I reject wholesale the idea of wishing people tidings of joy come the end of the year, it’s just that I choose to do so in a fashion that doesn’t involve wasting precious paper resources and burdening the beleaguered United States Postal Service. I call people, I visit them, I have dinners and exchange gifts. To me, that goes farther than a piece of mail, no matter how far it travels to its destination.
Also, I don’t feel the need to express my true feelings only during the season of Christmas, a holiday which I no longer celebrate in the religious sense for reasons I will not go into here (my disillusionment with Catholicism is fodder for an entire series of novels rivaling the Game of Thrones saga in both emotion and breadth). In fact, why should I limit my well wishing to a string of weeks at the very end of the year? I would think people who support the idea of wishing people well, especially members of the Christian faith, would encourage friendly greetings throughout the year.
Still, there are those who equate not sending Christmas cards to some kind of sacrilege. Such people clearly are unaware of the history of the Christmas card. According to the Greeting Card Association (yes, there is such a thing), the very first Christmas card was sent by a Londoner named Sir Henry Cole in 1843. The design, which in part depicted revelers in the midst of celebration, was lambasted by Puritan groups of the day, assumably because they felt it an insult to the solemn miracle of the birth of Christ. Yes, Puritans hated Christmas cards too, and it doesn’t get much more religious than Puritans.
My rejection of Christmas cards will undoubtedly be met with derision — not because there’s any real logic behind the act of sending them, but because it’s tradition. It’s just what you do. I need not stress the danger in this line of thinking to those of you familiar with the short story work of Shirley Jackson.
So, people of New York, and around the world, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year…just don’t expect to get it in writing. Maybe we could get a drink sometime.