Christmas cards, Christmas letters
Every November I prepare and write a few dozen postal Christmas cards. This year I prepared and posted 50 cards, which is a few more than usual and more than I know will be reciprocated. These days more and more people send E-cards, or somehow otherwise use digital media like Facebook for their year-end holiday greetings. They are apt to smugly boast about how cleverly they are using contemporary technology to do a job faster, cheaper and more efficiently than ever. Or, they used to be prone to be smugly boastful about it. The new technology is so ubiquitous today that most people probably don’t think about it anymore. It’s the new normal. But I like the old fashioned way, slowly by postal mail. There is excitement in the preparation of my holiday mailing and more excitement and anticipation of what I might receive. And, when I receive cards they make good decorations for my apartment. I string up the cards I receive and shortly after New Year take them down and store them with my collection from previous years. I greatly regret that in 2002 I threw away a large collection of Christmas cards I received throughout the 1990s from family and friends. I will never do that again. At that time I had been in the habit for many years of saving every correspondence I received. Everything. The collection occupied dozens of file boxes in my condominium apartment in Guelph and comprised a significant part of my library. But my father’s death early in the millennium was a watershed. Shaken into a new mindset and faced with mounting costs I made the decision together with my family to do what I hated to do: rent my apartment. My apartment had been the repository of all my worldly goods and the decision to rent it ignited a great dissolution of my collection. First, every paperback book I owned was sold, traded, given away, or thrown away. My library shrank from ten thousand to about six thousand books in just a few weeks. (It has since climbed back up over the ten thousand mark, all hard cover volumes.) Second, books and furniture were prepared for long-term storage and, third, I threw away my entire collection of correspondence. My reasoning was that someday I would die and my family or survivors would throw this stuff away anyway, so why not do it now? So I did. Now I regret it not only for the lost Christmas cards, but for the handwritten letters from my parents, my first girlfriend - a rare artifact indeed - cards from prime ministers and presidents, and at least two handwritten letters from Charles Manson himself.
So in Japan I have been writing and saving Christmas cards again for over a decade. Right after Halloween I know that I have to get a jump on the project to get control of it. The appearance of Christmas trees and other December decorations in local convenience stores from the beginning of November makes me anxious. This year, 2014, I was lucky to have just the right amount of money at just the right time to buy almost all the cards and accompanying stamps I needed all at once, early in the month. At first the task of addressing them seems discouraging, but once I started I didn’t stop and that phase went quite well. But then I had the even greater task of writing messages in the cards.
I do not write an annual Christmas letter like many people do nowadays. That is not a substitute for a genuine note in my cards. I don’t write a lot in my cards, either, because chances are that the people I send them to have heard from my via Email a dozen times or more throughout the year anyway, so there is little new to say. But I reject the Christmas letter as stupid, immoral, abusive, self-centered as well as selfish, boastful, shallow, crass, self-serving, obnoxious, unchristian, malicious, taunting, and evil. So I don’t do it. But I resist judging those who do it. First, I have nothing to boast about. Second, my life and the lives of my family are largely private, and I take privacy very seriously. I take privacy so seriously that for me it has become a secrecy fetish. What I do write to people a dozen times or more during the year tends to be light on personal information and heavy with objective, descriptive, observational information. I like it that way. The people who send me Christmas letters with their Christmas cards are precisely the people who have neglected or refused to write to me during the year in answer to my repeated messages. They are precisely the people who reject and oppose communication and (wrongly) think they are making up for that abuse with a detailed, boastful Christmas letter at year’s end. That’s not friendship. It’s more abuse on top of old abuse. These are precisely the same people who originally urged me to get Email with the promise of easier, more frequent communication, only to use it as a tool to limit their communications by screening and blocking people from their lives, and more easily ignoring me, with less cost to their conscience. They lied to me. The people who write Christmas letters seem a picture of illiteracy. I mean, they don’t seem to be people who know their way around sentences. Maybe they take great pride in their annual letters, thinking of them as great accomplishments in lives otherwise devoid of writing. I usually read the first sentence and then toss the letters in the rubbish. Who am I to impinge upon their joy? I’ll tell you who I am. I’m a target of their unsolicited self-absorption. Are people insane?! Personally, I think that most people are insane. Better to embrace it than deny it or contest it.
I reject the Christmas letter as stupid, immoral, abusive, self-centered as well as selfish, boastful, shallow, crass, self-serving, obnoxious, unchristian, malicious, taunting, and evil. But I resist judging those who do it. For me privacy has become a secrecy fetish.
For me, communication is more about self-expression than about mere factual information. That means I am not averse to liberally fashioning information, or else fibbing my pants off to make a better story, and still calling it “communication.” People will say that I am equally as guilty of unsolicited obnoxious mailing as I accuse Christmas letter writers of being, but I say that the difference is in the nature of the writing. In a spirit of humility I rarely write self-centered stuff but focus instead on the observational stuff. That is the difference. And, I don’t think it is a difference that makes no difference. I think it is a meaningful difference.
For me, communication is more about self-expression than about mere factual information. That means I am not averse to liberally fashioning information, or else fibbing my pants off to make a better story, and still calling it “communication.”
Once my cards are addressed and stamped I have to write them and seal the envelopes. It becomes a little industry occupying my work space at home, and to keep my card project moving forward in an orderly fashion I have to set a pace of two or three a day in order to have them ready for a mailing date around November 20th. I want them to arrive early enough for people to write me back so that I can receive reciprocal cards in a timely manner. Although better late than never is true, it is still such a drag to receive Christmas cards after December 25th.
Shake 'n Bake
1. Buy cards
2. Address cards
3. Stamp cards
4. Write cards
5. Seal envelopes
6. Post cards