Why Was I Even Sending Christmas Cards in 2016?

This year, as I alluded to briefly in my NaNoWriMo after action report, I sent out Christmas cards with letters for the first time this year.

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A card with a letter tucked into it. Only the edge of the folded letter, with an image of my face on it is visible. The card is a poem with a flower traced over it, backed on lime green paper

Here’s a demo version of the card design I used… unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph any of them in advance, so this version is made on terrible paper.

For about as long as I can remember, my mother has sent out a Christmas Letter, along with handmade Christmas cards to her extended family. Exactly what a Christmas Letter is supposed to contain appears to vary a bit, I saw at least one grumpy op-ed decrying them as an excuse to brag while I was writing mine, and another complaining that they are an out-dated and frivolous emotional labour sink.

In my family at least, Christmas letters have historically had a utilitarian purpose. They originate in a time when long-distance contact by phone or mail was tricky and expensive and so sending a nicely written summary of the goings on of the year, once a year, meant you could, at least, keep track of your family in a basic way. And they’re still good this way for people who either don’t like, or can’t get the hang of, Facebook. Far from being primarily about bragging, the 2014 and 2015 letters involved passing on news of deaths in the family.

My family finally extricated its collective self from a two-year long multi-crisis pileup this year. So, for the first time in a while, I was free of the crisis swamp and associated personal mental health issues, and had the time and energy to actually think about putting together the letters and cards. And I was looking a way to rekindle the social relationships I’d let lapse because I was too busy coping with things. I was also not faced with the prospect of spending a significant portion of my first ever letter recounting a set of deaths/personal/health issues. (For all that I defend these things as a non-braggy, my letter this year had a fair amount of bragging. I had a busy year and I took the opportunity to share a short list of Reasons I Love Montreal).

Like my Mother, an immigrant with her family spread across three continents (or a continent and two islands, depending on how you count it), I’ve also now reached the point where I have friends and loved ones I won’t see every year. So in addition to being a nicer way to reconnect than a facebook message, the letter and card are, for about half the card I sent, substituting for any kind of personal face-to-face interaction. And for those people, the added time and cost of a card versus an email totally paid off.

The Mechanics of the Christmas Cards

My Christmas Card/Letter format was basically a copy of my Mom’s; a handmade card with a personal note, and a typed form letter with a few pictures. In the end, I sent a total of 34 cards, and counting supplies, postage and printing costs, spent about 60 dollars.

I’d had vague ideas about Christmas Cards as early as the past winter, and I send cards for other reasons so I had designed and made a handful of cards through the year, but in the end, I wrote, edited and formatted the letter, and made 27 cards during November for a deadline of December 1st. International Christmas cards are best sent in the first week of December, at least when dealing with Canada Post, and staggered deadlines just seemed too complicated, so I was aiming to get everything done by that early deadline. And I did. All the cards were complete, in their envelopes by December 1st, and all the cards I initially planned to send by post were sent on time.

To cut down on postage (easily the most expensive part of the whole endeavour), I attempted to hand deliver as many of the cars as I could. This worked pretty well. I ended up originally mailing 13 cards, and successfully hand delivered 19 either directly or indirectly via friends.

I failed to deliver two cards, which I then had to mail after the fact, so they’ll be late, and I realized on about January 2nd, that I’d completely forgotten to make a card for a very old friend. Fortunately that friend doesn’t know about this blog, so he doesn’t have to know, and I’ll mail him one next year.

What Worked and What Didn’t

Overall, I had a good time and will be doing this again next year. I suspect next year this will actually be easier, if only because now I know how long things take, and how much I can expect them to cost. And I’ll be able to buy the right amount of supplies. This time I ended up running out of card stock right at the last minute, so a couple of cards are on slightly lower quality paper.

The major issue I hope to avoid, is having to make the majority of the cards in a rush in November, which was stressful and cut into my NaNoWriMo writing time. So this year cards are going to be my priority craft until I have a good stockpile.

The cost was also pretty notable, it was more than I expected. But I’ve cunningly come up with a new card design which will hopefully accommodate me using cheaper materials. Unfortunately, the primary cost is still postage, which I can’t do much about. Depending on my budget come November, I might also not include any pictures in the letter, to bring the printing costs down. I liked having the images, but its nice to have the option.

Reactions, Conclusions and Miscellaneous Navel-Gazing

I really like sending cards, and people seemed to like getting them, so it was kind of time consuming, but it was also very rewarding. This is the thing I think people often forget about emotionally laborious tasks like this. They have the potential to be thankless, but they also have the potential to feel really, really good.

Oddly, while it didn’t occur to me all throughout the drawn out process of planning, creating, assembling, mailing and handing out 34 cards, all of which went swimmingly, now that I’m sitting and writing about it after the fact, my primary emotion is regret that I never got to send a Christmas card to my paternal Grandmother, who died in 2014. My Grandma was utterly and frustratingly technophobic so communication with her (outside of actually crossing the Atlantic Ocean) was limited to letters, or long distance phone calls. So most of the cards I have sent, across my entire lifetime, went to her, but she never got a grownup Christmas letter from me, which I know she would have appreciated. I have no idea why I’m thinking about this now, but I am.

To end on a less sombre note, one thing that surprised me, is that if you hand someone a card and two page long letter, they will, it turns out, immediately drop everything and read it, instead of leaving it until later. Who knew?

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