The XX Factor

Why Bother To Send Holiday Cards?

I’ll confess. This is the week that I force the kids and the dog into their Santa hats and take our annual Christmas card photo. Over the years the picture has gone out on everything from the cheapest stick–it-on-yourself to the most expensive hand-engraved cards. Last year, in the interest of saving time, money, paper, and the planet, I finally succumbed to attaching the photo to an e-card and found it highly satisfactory. Like so much to do with family, our annual tradition has become at once a chore and a delight. Should I give up on the card altogether? Probably not until the chore part outweighs the delight.

Today it seems that Jane Roper might have reached this point. She describes her reasons below.

Every year around this time, I ask my husband the same question: Are we doing holiday cards? And every year his answer is the same: an emphatic no. In the past, I’ve responded by calling him a crank, a curmudgeon, and a Scrooge with no sense of tradition, and sent out cards (from both of us, of course) on my own.

But over the years, I’ve grown increasingly ambivalent about the whole thing. And I think 2009 may be the year I finally end up in the Grinch-y no-cards camp with my husband. Here’s why:

1. So over the politics. If someone sends us a card, are we obligated to send them one, too? Can we drop people from our list if we fall out of touch, or do we have to keep sending to more and more people every year? If someone drops us from their list, does it mean they’re mad at us? It’s like trying to put together your wedding invitation list every year. Ugh.

2. Children . We have two of them, twin girls who are almost three. I try not to play the working-mom-with-young-kids card too much, but in this case, I think I may be justified. My free time is so limited, so precious; do I really want to spend it buying cards, chasing down my friends’ current addresses, trying and inevitably failing to print labels from my computer, adding the all-important “personal note,” to each card, and stuffing envelopes? As opposed to, say, reading a book or going to the gym? Call me selfish if you want. I can’t hear you over my daughters’ outside voices.

3. Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, cell phones, etc. The tradition of holiday cards dates back to a time when people weren’t constantly, obsessively in touch with each other. Is it really necessary to reach out to my friends and acquaintances in this manner when we can go online and read about what the other had for breakfast on any given day? Why send one another pictures of our kids when we can just post jpegs?

4. Money. We have a lot of friends and relatives. Decent cards start at $.50 each. Stamps are $.44. Can I just donate what we would have spent on holiday cards to a worthy charity? I can be lazy, cheap, and sanctimonious!

5. The environment. This is a biggie. In the age of virtual everything, it’s nice to get a real-live card in the mail-creamy hardstock, glitter and all. I like it, too. And I know that e-cards just aren’t the same. But I also know that I feel a tree-sized pang of guilt a few weeks after Christmas when I dump a six-inch stack of cards into the recycling bin. Consider the millions of holiday card recipients around the globe doing the same thing, the factories that manufacture and ink the cards, the mail trucks and planes that deliver them, and you’re talking one big, jolly carbon footprint.

6. Other forms of holiday cheer. Buying gifts, putting up decorations, making cookies and other holiday fare, going to parties and other festivities, spending time with friends and family. These things are time-consuming in and of themselves, and to me they’re a lot more fun and meaningful than sending and receiving small, folded pieces of paper. A girl’s gotta have priorities.

And still, spite of all of these arguments against them, I’ll admit it: I’m not entirely convinced that I won’t give in and send cards this year. There’s an old-fashioned part of me that loves the tradition, the personal connection. And some of our friends do send pretty kickass cards; I’d hate to fall off their lists.

So maybe we’ll split the difference and just send to the friends and relatives we never see, either in the flesh or online. I’ll use recycled cards with vegetable-based ink. And make the twins lick the envelopes.

Jane Roper is a Boston-based writer. She blogs at Baby Squared.