Christmas cards are like third string NHL players -- they may not be as big and scary as first line rites of passage, but they're still unnerving when you try to check them off. I've recently felt something mutate in my DNA, and I'm pretty sure it was my Christmas card gene activating; I've been noticing them everywhere and feeling a growing sense of urgency, like I should get cracking before I find myself in the winter of my life. My body's saying let's go, but my heart is saying... I just don't know.
My hesitation isn't about the pictures. I actually have a set of incredibly apt photos taken a couple weeks ago at my Rite Aid, which happens to be a renovated roller rink.
Roller skating at the Rite Aid started out as kind of a joke between me and one of my lovely roommates, an item on our neighborhood bucket list, but the photos we took as proof of our valor actually ended up looking kind of charming... at least, the ones where you can't see my visceral terror at having to work a toe-break. This provides grounds for temptation, since the last time I appeared in a Christmas card that was remotely cute was before I was a sentient being. Now I am grown. I have experienced Rite Aid as it was meant to be experienced -- aggressively and on wheels. Why should I not too experience what it's like to send my loved ones rolling in the aisles... literally?
According to the Wikipedia article on homemade Christmas cards, "Advances in digital photography and printing have provided the technology for many people to design and print their own cards, using their original graphic designs or photos, or those available with many computer programs or online as clip art, as well as a great range of typefaces." I guess my parents were ahead of their time, because they've been dispensing homespun photos of us with non-denominational greetings (we celebrate both, we just call them "Christmas cards" anyway) in a great range of typefaces for decades. I was raised in a family that believed holiday cards should be pictures of ourselves. As children, our bodies were attuned to the winter solstice, cresting the wave of whatever awkward developmental stage we were in just in time for the card, which would then be distributed in subsequent months, sometimes even years, to our legions of relatives for the customary fridge hanging.
When I think of this practice in terms of my current life, though, it seems a touch lofty. If my friends want to see how much I've grown up, they usually just look at my Facebook page. And almost none of them hang things on their fridges. It also costs money to produce and mail Christmas cards, so I can really only comfortably send about 11. This is incredibly stressful. I always thought the whole, "naughty" and "nice" thing was pretty judgmental of Santa, but now that I'm in the position of judge jury and executioner, I've gained some sympathy for Big Red's plight... he wasn't being a douche, he was just being decisive.
Beyond my personal struggle of having to mentally hunger-game my loved ones down to a select few to be carded, Christmas cards straddle a moral dilemma on a more macro level. On the one hand, sending out Christmas cards indisputably contributes to the aspirational perfectionism that is the tinselly circus of our holiday culture. There is so much anxiety around the holiday season, as if it's our one chance per annum to showcase our growth and/or atone for our lack there of. Keeping up appearances is at an all time high, everyone grasping at cookie-cutter traditions, cookie-cutter dinners and cookie-cutter gifts... all propagated by cookie-cutter cards that serve as still frame testaments to all the other cut cookies. To this end, putting yet another Christmas card out into the world feels a bit like fanning the flame.
On the other hand, Christmas cards might actually serve as a humbling anchor, grounding us in reality with tangible records of our own awkwardness. I always think about that part of the hit 2004 cinematic gem Garden State, when serious Zach Braff is looking over the swiveling green-yellow pool light and telling that lying tap dancer that maybe family "...is a group of people that miss the same imaginary place." I never understood why more people don't see Garden State as a holiday movie, because I'm pretty sure that quote is describing how the emotional undercurrent of the holiday mania works -- the early years when everything was "perfect" sort of haunt us because they're from a time when we believed in magic, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to recreate that feeling in one form or another. To that end, I think Christmas cards are beneficial. No photo, no matter how tasteful, can hide that a kid is just a kid -- one look at how human we really were in the so-called wonder years is all it takes to keep the fantasies at bay; i.e., yes, the year I got the talking Belle mirror was amazing, but now that I recall, I definitely also had chicken pox and spent the majority of that Christmas in an oatmeal bath.
I think good holidays, like good Christmas cards, do exist, but our eyes are so trained to recognize a Hess Truck Ad level of satisfaction that we miss the gentle, humble candle nub that is the reality of holiday magic. The more I think about wonder and how it works, the more it seems like something to be cultivated rather than something to be sought.
For me, it's usually pretty easy to check out in the day-to-day of things, this apathy serving to lessen the negative impact of unpleasant trivialities, but at the cost of desensitizing me to the some of the good. Occasionally, though, life will throw out a bone that completely exceeds my expectations as a sort of reminder of how delightful ordinary things can be if I'm open to appreciating them -- like a naturally occurring Christmas card or a Roller Rink Rite Aid.
There is one photo that stands out from that night at the Rite Aid of me and my roommate, who is my partner in crime and my day-to-day family.
We were aiming the camera at a bunch of stuffed horses, but because the Roller Rink Rite Aid still has functioning 360° mirrors, our reflection is caught in a regress. And it's sweet, both of us concentrating on these horses like they're an Orgo exam, not trying to pose at all. If I do send a Christmas card, that's probably the one because it just so captures the real give and take essence of Christmas cards -- it's not so much about who you give them to as who takes the photo. The truth is, we're all pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things, so if there is one person that cares enough about you to put you in a Christmas card, you're doing pretty well.
So, am I going to send a card this year? Still unclear. I've now devoted a significant amount of time writing about the process rather than doing it, which usually indicates no. But why rush the decision -- as long as they go out before July, I'm golden.