Downtime

In 2020, I Tossed the Usual Holiday Cards

This year, there’s a better idea.

An illustration of a 2020 New Year's card that says "OUT" on it.
Natalie Matthews-Ramo

The first apartment I lived in after college was, in size and quality of furniture, a lot like my dorm rooms. That is to say: small and crappy. I still had the ramen-filled diet and empty wallet of a college kid, too. But one way I felt more like a “real” adult was sending holiday cards to friends and family. At first, I bought cards by the box, the most sophisticated I could find for my budget (and soon learned I could get fancy museum gift-shop cards at Target prices by buying them in January). I spent Thanksgiving weekend writing a note in each card, and addressing every envelope by hand. I’ve sent them every year since.

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When I got married and had a kid, my fussy, adult-faking ritual turned into a streamlined annual operation that befitted my eventual job as a product manager. I cut the personalized notes down to a signature and started using printed address labels. I thought I’d reached peak card efficiency until I discovered the magic of preprinted photo cards—and envelopes.

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Now my main task is choosing the year’s design and photos. Some years I’ve carefully divided up my recipient list and created cards for several specific greetings, whether Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or Happy Hanukkah. And some years I just go with “Peace and Joy” or “Merry and Bright.” My process is not nearly as handcrafted as it was years ago, but it’s a small, special rite I’ve cherished for more than two decades now.

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Until this year. When it was time to start thinking about designs and greetings, I had a hard time contemplating the holidays, let alone anything “merry or bright.” What kind of joy could a card bring this year, to me or to anyone else? For the first time since my Met Museum painting cards in the ’90s, I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted to send cards at all. Despite all the wreaths and lights I saw going up even before Thanksgiving, what I really wanted to do was say goodbye to 2020. I figured most of my friends and family would be looking forward to turning the page to 2021, too.

Then I remembered a twist on this ritual from a friend of mine: For the past couple years, she’s sent New Year’s cards. Instead of the usual holiday inscriptions relishing the season in December, they were about marking a moment of renewal and unseen possibilities ahead. That I could get behind this year. And maybe I shouldn’t let the pandemic steal another one last bit of normalcy if I could help it.

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I remembered that New Year’s had always been an option at the card company I typically use, Shutterfly, so I decided to go for it. I soon learned I must not be the only one with this idea this year: Among the greeting options are “Well, that was crazy,” “What a year!,” and “Good riddance 2020.”

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I decided to use the, ahem, gentler “Welcome 2021.” Although it was tempting to go with something more fun or exasperated, I wasn’t sure that everyone on my recipients’ list would be ready or able to joke about 2020. Some of them are people my husband and I met in our 20s, and the holiday card is the last thread of connection we have. I didn’t want to send a message that was unintentionally hurtful.  Wishing everyone health and welcoming a new year was a greeting that will suit everyone. It also, frankly, meant I can send the same card to everyone on my list, too.

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While it felt a little odd not to be rushing to put my cards together before Thanksgiving, I quickly realized another benefit of these, vis-à-vis my usual routine: It doesn’t really matter when you send them. You could do it in two weeks, even with the U.S. Postal Service in the condition it is. Is anyone really going to notice if your New Year’s card shows up after Jan. 1 and not before?

So if you haven’t already sent holiday cards this year and felt it gnawing on you, stop now, and send a New Year’s card instead. And do reduce your card-related stress like I do by using a custom-print company like Shutterfly that lets you upload address lists and preprint them on the envelopes; this is hardly the year to make more work for yourself. Services can even mail them directly to your recipients. (And if you use Rakuten, formerly eBates, you can get cash back on orders from Shutterfly and sister company Tinyprints, as well as Snapfish and Zazzle.)

I don’t know yet if New Year’s cards will be my new tradition. If those wishes for a new start are fulfilled, maybe next year I’ll be inspired to go all-in on the holidays again and return to my days of hand-writing personalized greetings. But whether you send holiday cards every year or you’ve decided it’s the right time to send a personal greeting to friends and family, join me in celebrating the end of this cursed year with a card that hopes the next one really is a new start.

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