**I should preface this post in saying that I am greatly generalizing in my very cynical rant about something I (use to) love to do.**
I received 31 holiday cards this season. No I’m not bragging. And yes, I’m grateful for each one.
All, but one, came from beautiful couples with and without beautiful children smiling up at me. One even had the parents blurred in the background. About three of the cards had actual year end updates on the back (which I hope for). Most pictures were professionally taken in bucolic woods or sunny beach backgrounds. Children wore matching outfits. Wives and husbands rested their hands on one another to suggest the loving couple they always are. Even the dogs were poised in happy well-behaved positions. The pictures that disappoint are those that only include the children. I want to see my friends, not just their children. My favorites are the ones where children did not cooperate in a staged attempt at happiness.
Holiday cards today have become to Americans a (sometimes fictitious) portrait display of the happy family or couple. I asked my Polish friend what Polish people would think if they received such cards. He said, “They’d think Americans are narcissistic. It’s a religious holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, not a holiday to worship families.”
I have only one single friend, recently divorced, who continues to send out Christmas cards. While still married, she always sent holiday cards with pictures of her, her husband and dog. The year after the divorce I still received her holiday card, this time featuring a picture of (just) her and her dog, Frank. But this year’s did not contain a picture. Sadly, Frank died this year. When I asked her why this year’s card had no picture, she said, “It felt sad not to have one with Frank.” No significant other? No pet? No photos on the Christmas card?
I told one unmarried friend (in a relationship which she prominently displayed on the front and center of the card) that I didn’t send out Christmas cards anymore because I had nothing to show. “You have plenty of holiday card-worthy pictures!” she enthusiastically encouraged. What selection of pictures am I going to display? Here I am running a trail. Here I am talking to Katie Couric about my virginity. Here I am holding someone else’s dog or child. Here I am at my desk writing about my sad single life in my new house I share with nobody.
I admit: I worry I’ll stop receiving cards since I don’t send them anymore. While visiting a friend’s house yesterday, I was admiring her prominent window display of holiday cards featuring professional looking portraits of friends. The other traditional Christmas cards without pictures were crammed together on the bulletin board. I noticed that she had received a portrait card from my friend I had introduced her to. They both have toddlers. With honest disappointment, I said, “Dang! You got a card from Nancy and I didn’t.” She explained, “Well, I sent her a card. Did you?” The trend I feared had begun: holiday cards exchanged (almost) exclusively between couples and families…because, well, they are the ones sending the cards.
Two years ago I sent out holiday cards to a select few. The picture (to the left) was one of me at Halloween dressed in a black leather catsuit and orange wig. The rando standing behind me dressed as Rudolph grabbed his reindeer nuts just as my friend snapped the picture. The caption? “Hope your holiday is balls of fun!”
Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt many single men are faced with the somewhat mournful process of opening card after card from friends you usually only hear from during the holidays on Tiny Prints and Shutterfly pearl shimmer premium cardstock. First of all, it’s almost always the wife creating the card (and signing his name first). Second of all, men aren’t expected to send out cards to their buddies. When is the last time you saw a guy browsing the card aisle other than for a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or a “Please Let Me Out of the Dog House” card.
I particularly feel bad when I go back home to Cincinnati and watch my mom open card after card from friends who only include pictures of their grandchildren. She would never say it, but I know she wishes she could send the same. I know, kids or no kids, husband or no husband, she’s still proud of me. When I was 23, it was ok to include a picture in our traditional New Year’s (because we’re always running behind) letter of her daughter in front of the Eiffel Tower. But now, “here’s a picture of my aging single daughter winning a 5k”, doesn’t quite feel right.
About 5 years ago I started sending out homemade cards at Valentines because a) nobody under the age of 10 sends friends Valentines cards and b) despite my cynical attitude toward holiday cards, I still believe in love (and that idyllic looking family standing in a colony of sun soaked golden aspen trees).