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December 30, 2011

The Photo Christmas Card and Family Letter

by Anne Paddock

It’s December and the annual “Christmas Card” has not been created or mailed. Every year our family has sporadic conversations throughout the year about what our Christmas photo card should be. We’ve recreated musicals, historical events, period pieces, and spoofed ourselves all in the name of fun and enjoying the holidays.

My husband, the idea man comes up with many creative proposals – most of which we nix but one or two ideas emerge with possibilities. Once we decide on the theme, I take on the logistics: finding and ordering the outfits, props, accessories, and arranging the photographer. The card has to be chosen with a universal interior greeting, along with the lined envelope.  The picture is taken, chosen, ordered and then glued on to the card. Envelopes are addressed, interior salutations written, and the family letter composed, edited, proofed, photocopied, and stuffed into the envelope. Stamps are affixed and the letters delivered to the post office.

It’s safe to say doing a holiday card is a lot of work but for the most part the process is a series of tasks that I’ve always enjoyed although I’ve told my husband it would be nice to sit on the throne once in a while and be the idea person and let him be the logistics person.  He then goes into a verbose speech of our individual strengths and weaknesses and somehow I always succumb to the praise and end up agreeing to doing all the detail work.

This year my husband had a brilliant idea for a holiday photo card in late November but we couldn’t all be in the same place to have a photograph taken until a week before Christmas. To complicate matters further and for a variety of other reasons (namely, I’m really busy right now), I just couldn’t get the logistics done in time. So, I suggested that we send out a holiday letter this year and my husband agreed.

We both worked on the letter and when we finished, I commented that I would have our daughter photographed and include a picture of her. My husband suggested we make it easy and just send the letter.  I explained that we have to include a photograph, that it was a woman thing and to trust me: holiday greetings without a picture are a big disappointment and although he didn’t get it (he’s a guy after all), he went along with me because he knows how much I enjoy sitting on the couch every year looking at the cards, reading, and telling everyone in the family what’s going on with the families we know and how much their kids have grown (grey hair and weight gain are topics non grata).

Christmas cards have evolved through the years.  There were festive pictures of wreaths, trees, winter and nativity scenes for years which seemed to be replaced by the photo card although there are still some hold-outs who send the traditional Christmas card.  The family letter or short note that informs about the year’s activities is fun to read and has run the gamut from 6 single spaced pages that covered one family’s month by month journey through the year to the typical one page synopsis that seemed to strike the right balance of letting everyone know just enough information.  But truth be told, I enjoy every letter and picture because so often this communication is an annual chance to catch up on people’s lives.

It doesn’t even matter to me if the note is a pre-printed letter that everyone receives or an e-mail with pictures and writing – these are fine and understandable because who has the time to write a personal letter to each recipient anymore?  I don’t even care if the letter brags about the kids accomplishments, the parents, the trips, awards or whatever – it’s perfectly ok with me because it’s information that I find interesting and meaningful. It’s easier to rejoice in success than succumb to negativity.

My husband jokingly said that one year we should write a letter that says he’s gone to jail, I’ve run off to some far eastern country in search of spiritual salvation, our daughter is a delinquent, the dog went rabid and our cat dropped 6 mice and 8 dead birds on our doorstep as a Christmas gift. Men just don’t see the holiday photo card and holiday letter in the same light as women. And, that’s o.k. as long as the tradition doesn’t die out because every year I look forward to receiving holiday greetings – it’s really all about the pictures and the notes.

Christmas or holiday cards with a holiday scene (read “no picture”) and a printed or signed name greatly disappoint me as I want to scream out “show me a picture or tell me what happened this year!” Often times the card does not contain a salutation to us on the inside either. At the risk of sounding ungrateful I am going to go out on a limb here and say “why bother?” (except to my Jewish friends who DO send a card which I always sincerely appreciate because the “Christmas Card” is not a part of their holiday culture so they get a free pass; or my artist friends who make their own cards which I secretly covet, keep, and have matted and framed).

Holiday cards are work – a lot of work and there are ways to save time – computer printed labels for instance – but there are two parts that should never be skipped by the traditional card sender: the picture and the family letter.  Trust me: People look forward to these every year and are interested in you, your kids, the grandchildren and the pets.

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