Last weekend, I schlepped out to Long Island with my husband, toddler, and dog in tow for an overnight at my mom’s house. The occasion wasn’t a special family dinner or holiday shopping trip, but rather a portrait session with one of my friends from high school who is conveniently a talented photographer. We donned coordinated navy and black ensembles and soft grins in her backyard, shooting a variety of options for our family’s holiday card.
The annual tradition to take professional photos is one I cherish and my husband tolerates. One day, I’m sure my daughter and any future siblings of hers will enjoy flipping through the albums and seeing them. But aside from the images themselves, the purpose of them, to put on a holiday greeting card that we send to family and friends, is important to me. I had no idea until recently that the practice is starting to fall out of fashion with some of my peers, and even my mom’s contemporaries. But even if we are the last ones around that still do it, I refuse to stop sending holiday cards.
I was chatting with a friend of mine about the photo selection process and she replied, “This is why we stopped doing it.” I was flabbergasted! A fellow “mamarazzi” like myself, she’s always snapping pictures of her three daughters and posting them on Instagram and Facebook for everyone to see. I said as much. “Exactly,” she explained, “If anyone wants to see how cute my kids are, they can go on Instagram. I don’t have time for holiday cards.”
I brought up the topic again with my mom and one of her friends the next day as we sipped red wine and chatted about the holidays. My mom’s friend doesn’t have little kids to post photos of on social media, but she, too, thinks it’s a waste of time. “I don’t do it anymore,” she said flat-out. The more I’ve asked fellow moms about it recently, I’m realizing that more and more people feel the same way.
And I get it. Whether the photos are taken by a professional, uploaded from a cell phone, or skipped altogether in favor of a standard design, the process of addressing, stamping, and sending out holiday cards is time consuming. In an era when many moms, myself included, are juggling multiple roles at once — parent, housekeeper, money earner, fever reducer, chauffeur — anything extra tends to fall squarely under the column marked “NO.” But not this, not for me. I just can’t give it up.
Even though I designed and ordered our cards at one in the morning after a full day of care-taking, cleaning, cooking, and working, I enjoyed the bleary-eyed ritual nonetheless. And when they arrive in a week or so, I’ll groan as my hand starts to ache from the excessive chore of addressing the envelopes and dragging my grouchy toddler to the post office to drop off the haul. But then I’ll smile and feel content, and here’s why:
The people on our holiday card list are from different parts of our lives. Some are very old. For them, hopping on Instagram to see photos of my 2-year-old is not likely. Some of the recipients are friends who live far away, colleagues I no longer keep in touch with closely, and so on. Some see our daughter all the time, and for them, opening the envelope and seeing her face and a loving message from us will make them smile. For all of them, even in a world of Instagram and Facebook, I hope they’ll open the card and feel special that we thought enough of them to send one.
Whether the card is put on refrigerators, propped up on mantles, or lands in kitchen trashcans, it’s not about the photo session or the time spent writing out the addresses. For me, it’s the thought. The action of upholding a tradition from the past, one both my grandmothers enjoyed. For me, in a world of social media reigns supreme, the act of writing out and mailing these cards is a momentary pause from the speed of our typical correspondence.
At this time of year, not everyone is surrounded by joy and light. Not everyone has all their family intact and a stack of presents under the tree. There is heartache and loss for many people. The beauty of the season, to me, stems not only from the holiday you celebrate and the meaning at its core, but also from the opportunity to do kind things for others. A holiday card might be a very small gesture, but I know how I feel every time I open one: grateful and warmed. Reminded of someone dear who may not be near. And if I can make even one person on our list feel that way for one moment, all the time and effort are definitely worth it.
Photo: Jenny Studenroth