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December 24, 2011

Every Christmas Card I Write

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I sealed up the last Christmas card this afternoon to be delivered at tonight’s Lessons and Carols service which begins an hour past my bed-time.  I voted against this schedule because not only do I have to be there, I have to be alert.  I direct the choir for one song and I play the organ on all the noisy carols. I need to not fall asleep and trod on the pedals in the middle of the readings. But I digress.

I love the idea of Christmas cards, at least in theory.  It isn’t de rigueur for my generation.  When I was growing up my mother commandeered half the dining room table for her Christmas card operation.  For a month and a half we ate off TV trays and listened to how onerous it all was.

My mother always sent religious cards.  Once she sent me out to buy a Christmas card for my teacher and I came back with one that referenced Tom and Jerry which I thought were cartoon mice.  She wouldn’t let it out of the house because a Tom and Jerry is *alcohol.* I found that card 50 years later in my mother’s estate.  There it was all unused and looking like the 1950’s.  I gave it this year to Nina (rhymes with Dinah).

My mother disapproved of Christmas cards made of family photos.  Christmas was about Jesus.  It was conceited to put your family on a Christmas card.  She also disapproved of family newsletters; they were impersonal.  This was before Xerox when you had to have your letters printed at a print shop at great expense so there was that –the expense–as well.  She always wrote little notes in her cards.

Now people do e-cards.  Or no card.  But there’s a world of Christmas card senders: a little community, like the Facebook community.  If you like Facebook, you enjoy the world of other people who like Facebook and connect with everyone else some other way.  If you like to exchange Christmas cards, you have your Christmas card list and a roll of stamps.

When I say I like Christmas cards in theory, it’s because I always start out with great ambitions.  The day after Thanksgiving I make a long list of everyone I would send a card to if there were world enough and time. I put the list under the stack of everything that I know will realistically take precedence over writing cards.

When I finally get to the cards in mid December, the first thing I do is cross off half the names.  At least.  Good, that’s done.  Then I divide the list into my first tier people and my second tier people.  The first tier includes the aforementioned little community of avid Christmas card senders.  I usually manage to send those cards.   I send a card made from my newest watercolor to all the regulars who got last year’s watercolor card.  To new people who have recently entered my Christmas card community, I send “Artemis Among the Packages,” because everyone seems to like it, including me.

Like my mother, I prefer to write a little note, even if it is the same note written over and over.  By the time I have done a half a dozen cards, I have usually hit on a clever and succinct paragraph or two which I don’t mind writing 25 more times.  Sometimes if I am still writing Christmas cards in January, I turn them into New Years cards or thank you notes for cards or gifts that got to me on time.

I save my favorite cards.  They go through a rigorous screening and are subject to an annual review.  Here are some that have made the cut for the last 25 years:

First of all, a whole caroling village of pop-up cards from my British family.

A card from a college friend and fellow English major pictures a snowman smiling and smoking a pipe; and reads:

The trees are lovely, tall and svelte,

But I have snow beneath my belt,

And weeks to go before I melt,

And weeks to go before I melt.

Another is a Glen Baxter cartoon featuring a family bundled into an open air roadster.  One member is tossing the head of the driver out the back.  The caption reads: “The holiday began with another petty family squabble.”

And finally there is a Christmas table with a centerpiece made of olives.  A Botticellian looking toddler wears an olive on each fingertip.  Inside the card it says: “The Christ Child at the Olive Platter.”

One friend sends me the same card every year.  She bought a box of cards at Bartells some years ago, and has been slowly depleting her supply long enough for me to have caught on.   Considering what an ordeal it was to choose the cards in the first place, I think she has found quite a sensible routine for sending them.  We all make these decisions in our own way. Nothing is de rigueur.

In that spirit, I wish to say that it’s Christmas Eve in my corner of the world which is turning and tilting toward the light.  Whatever your beliefs and traditions, may we all know we are loved!

Artemis Among the Packages

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