The 12 Ways of Christmas: the cards

[Part 4]

My family is a collection of procrastinators. It wasn’t until Christmas was staring down at us from the other end of a week that we actually pulled ourselves together to send Christmas cards.

I’d dust off the glitter from the old cards we didn’t use from the previous year, and mom would add stacks of new cards she’d picked out. We always seemed to have old, unused cards. Sometimes the old ones were a little yellowed or discolored, and the glue on the envelopes tasted funny, so we’d save those til the end.

It’s a process largely driven by guilt. At a minimum, you have to send cards to the people who sent you a card. And you can’t not send a card to the people you sent one to the year before. Cutting someone off the Christmas card list could be cutting off the only contact you had with someone, ever.

Christmas cards can be an expensive enterprise, even though back then, when I was first aware of stamps, they cost only 22 cents apiece. There was the temptation to keep the list shorter, but … well, you just couldn’t could you?

We had a system. Sometimes we’d mess up. Once we sent a card with no writing on it. Once we sent an empty envelope. But it got us through a night of ink-stained fingertips and fumes from paint pens.

Mom had the better handwriting, so she always wrote the note. I’d stuff the envelopes and write the addresses. Then we’d split the stack. I’d lick the stamps for my stack—these were the days when you still had to lick stamps—and she’d stick on return address labels. Then she’d lick the stamps for hers, and I’d stick the labels on. We’d seal our own envelopes.

And then, dozens of paper cuts later on our dry, bitter tongues, we were done.


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