Around this time each December, my wife and I consider sending holiday cards. “We have so many good photos of us,” she’ll say. “How cute would that be, a little note to our family and friends,” I’ll say.
Then the cards start coming in the mail. We open each envelope: “Huh, looks like a Christmas card.” We acknowledge the sender: “This one’s from Aunt Trudy.” If there’s a photo of kids or pets, we’ll give it a look: “Little Ramona, what a rascal!”
Then it goes in the trash.
The lifespan of a holiday card is brief and brutal, at least in our home. It spends maybe a minute on its journey from mailbox to garbage bin, first inspiring a fleeting moment of warmth, then a day or two of guilt as I watch the faces of my loved ones molder under dirty tissues and scraps of food. Knowing this, I’ve never been able to bring myself to make and send them. Personalized cards can get pricey, and while each stamp is only 55 cents, did you know that 55 cents is more than half a dollar? I’d rather throw my money directly into a dumpster than spend it forcing my friends and relatives to do the same to a picture of me.
Don’t get me wrong: I go nuts for most of the tacky and treacly joys of the season. I play the Hanson Christmas album on repeat. I weep at every stupid commercial about a kid getting her Christmas wish. I positively twinkle at the sight of an inflatable reindeer billowing in a front yard. But holiday cards just don’t do it for me, and I believe I’m in the right here.
I’m sure you think I’m an insufferable Scrooge. “Cards are pretty. Just prop them up on a ledge until New Year’s, like everyone else,” you’ll say. “It’s nice to know that people are thinking of you,” you’ll say. “This is how I get updates on all those family friends I never see,” you’ll say. “Do you hate photos of your sister’s kids?” you’ll ask.
I say I don’t have any open “ledges” in my tiny apartment, and I don’t want to spend the month knocking over and re-straightening little slices of paper on my windowsills. Plus, a lot of these cards are actually just two-sided sheets of cardstock! I’m supposed to keep a stack of paper on my imaginary mantle? Or destroy my wall paint with tape?
Also, let’s be honest here. The jury’s out on how much personal sentiment really goes into each individual piece of a mass-produced mailing. If I’m being generous, I’d say it’s about half as much as the last comment someone left you on Instagram, and only because your uncle had to spend two minutes trying to remember whether it was you or your brother who relocated in August.
Speaking of which: Are you on social media? If so, you’ve probably already seen your second cousin’s baby bump, heard about your high school frenemy’s MLM “side hustle,” slogged through a zillion photos of every infant you know, and learned that your mom’s friend’s son got engaged at the Magic Kingdom. Before December is over, you’ll probably be served several outtakes from all their holiday photo shoots, too. By the time their cards come, you’ll have already seen those matching linen beach pants and “Merry and Bright” cocoa mugs. Who needs a hard copy?
I will now undermine my argument with a confession: I still have my niece and nephew’s 2017 and 2018 Christmas card photos on my fridge. These children are the lights of my life. I would rather sink my teeth into a Swarovski tree topper than ever throw their cards out.
This brings me to a few important exceptions to my “you could probably do without sending holiday cards” rule. If your designated recipients love you enough to keep your card until Valentine’s Day or later, by all means, produce that paper waste! (I require you to visually confirm this when you visit.) Do they have young children who’ll enjoy opening envelopes and using the photos as flashcards to practice the names of people they know? Get thyself to Shutterfly!
Most important, if you plan to do something even slightly obnoxious with your holiday mailing—brag about your child’s college acceptances, edit your family photo into a Vanity Fair–esque composite image, complain about how busy your multiple oceanfront properties have kept you in 2019—you are legally obligated to send as many as you can afford. There are only two things better than getting no holiday cards at all: getting one you’ll cherish forever, and getting one you’ll love to hate.