Because I married a photographer, once we had children, our holiday cards of course became vehicles for their cuteness and his creativity. In 2000, baby number one’s chubby smiling face in a Santa hat was the cover image. In 2004, our now-four faces were ornaments on a tree. By 2006, we donned stocking caps and lay down in bed together with a thought bubble over our sleeping heads filled with cherries and the headline “While Visions of Sugar Plums Danced in Their Heads.” Our best card was our last, in 2010. We dressed in extravagant holiday finery, gowns, jackets and bow-ties, except that my husband couldn’t find any tuxedo pants, so he wore the cummerbund over tartan boxers. We arranged ourselves tableau-style before a bookcase, holding what we hoped looked like hymnals and making Os of our mouths singing. We titled it: “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel.”
That was two years ago. We mailed it out in envelopes, signed, sealed and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and its analogues in distant lands. Good cheer and laughs in mailboxes all around! It’s been downhill ever since. By last year, we’d let our mailing list go to seed. We communicated with most of our friends online and no longer had street addresses for them. So on December 23rd or thereabouts, I sent out a paltry five or six store-bought cards with a photo tucked inside and called it a day.
I didn’t know it then but my world, my social world, was changing. Today, my 1,500 Facebook friends — 1,300 of whom I have never actually met—have already seen the best of the year’s haul of pictures of my kids. They also know where I’ve gone on vacation and sometimes, what I cooked for dinner or what I thought of a movie on a Saturday night in May. There’s little point to writing a Christmas update now, with boasts about grades and athletic prowess, hospitalizations and holidays, and the dog’s mishaps, when we have already posted these events and so much more of our minutiae all year long. The urge to share has already been well sated.
Likewise, as recipients, we already have real-time windows into the lives of people thousands of miles away. We already know exactly how they’ve fared in the past year, much more than could possibly be conveyed by any single Christmas card. If a child or grandchild has been born to a former colleague or high school chum living across the continent, not only did I see it within hours on Shutterfly or Instagram or Facebook, I might have seen him or her take his or her first steps on YouTube. If a job was gotten or lost, a marriage made or ended, we have already witnessed the woe and joy of it on Facebook, email and Twitter.
Still, the demise of the Christmas photo card saddens me. It portends the end of the U.S. Postal Service. It signals the day is near when writing on paper is non-existent. Finally, it is part of a decline of a certain quality of communication, one that involved delay and anticipation, forethought and reflection. Opening these cards, the satisfaction wasn’t just in the Peace on Earth greeting, but in the recognition that a distant friend or relative you hadn’t heard from in a year was still thinking about you, and maybe sharing news about major events of the past 12 months.
We know each other so well now, perhaps too well. And yet, all the time logged into our computers has also taken us away from our nearest and dearest. Who can say they spent as much time looking into the eyes of family, friends and neighbors as into the colorful phone or laptop screen last year? This season, in lieu of sending cards, my winter holiday greeting at the end of 2012 will be this: after posting the obligatory seasonal wishes online on Christmas Eve, I will be clicking off the electronic messaging services, and trying to connect in person with my friends, neighbors and family members for a change.
And wishing them each peace and joy in the year to come, of course.