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More Than A Salutation, Holiday Cards Are A Ritual

New Year's greetings from days gone by: a sample of the photos-of-sons subset of Sharon Brody's holiday cards. (Courtesy of Sharon Brody) MoreCloseclosemore
New Year's greetings from days gone by: a sample of the photos-of-sons subset of Sharon Brody's holiday cards. (Courtesy of Sharon Brody)

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People are apt to surprise you. You think you can imagine the path they’re on — but, nope. Down the road apiece you might take another look at those individuals and find yourself saying, well dang, I did not see that coming.

For instance, my family of origin had nothing to do with holiday cards, and I grew up into a card-mongering fiend.

My parents did not make, buy or send holiday cards. We did not festively display the holiday cards we received, because we did not receive them, very probably because, as aforementioned, we did not send even a single one.

We weren’t rebels, or loners; we were Jewish. Back then, in those sepia-toned Decembers of yore, holiday cards were Christmas cards. They were other people’s tradition. Like Christmas trees and baby Jesus in the manger: fine for them, of no personal interest to us.

But as a newly minted college graduate, I was ripe for a different approach. I had moved to Boston, and while I was happy to be on my way, I also felt a little lost. I missed my friends, my toes were cold, my writing sputtered and I had no earthly idea how to launch a career.

Suddenly, right after Thanksgiving, everything changed — thanks to a random bit of small talk at Woolworths.

“So?” asked the unexpectedly chatty cashier. “Are you ready? Started in yet? On your Christmas cards?"

Christmas cards.

Christmas cards?

Christmas cards!

Eureka!

Which way to the calligraphy pens, buckaroo?

This wasn't professional fulfillment, it wasn't new friends and it sadly wasn't a beach house in Miami. But it was a distraction from the chill, a way to connect and a route towards inspiration.

I hatched my plan to embrace the season and the unknown. I wasn’t, however, delusional. Given my stature as the slowest of pokes, I knew I’d need to buy myself some time. And given my status as an atheist, I knew I’d want to bypass the which-holiday divide. The solution: leave December to the rest of the rabble and stake my claim in the land of “Happy New Year.”

The only thing left to do was the actual work: dream up a drawing and a caption, make a bunch of copies and send cards to everybody I cared about. I was ready. I’d be uncorking some creativity, letting folks know I wished them well, and — by engaging with all the people who enriched my life — remembering that the world’s a very good place if you give it half a chance (never mind that by December it gets dark in Boston right smack in the middle of the afternoon).

My annual card-spewing frenzy is the only ritual that’s stayed the same since I was 22 years old.

Sure, I had … limitations. No artistic ability, for one. Zero aptitude for crafts. A tendency to forget to buy stamps. An unsettling absence of time management and organizational skills.

But where there’s a stick figure, there’s a way.

That first winter, I worked my way through my Rolodex, scribbling notes in card after card to kith and kin I treasured and to people I was just getting to know. I bought stamps, lost them, cursed, bought more and used every last one.

I felt giddy wandering out of the post office after mailing that inaugural batch. Having spent my entire life railing against conformity, I had an unanticipated elation at joining the masses in a custom I’d always ignored.

Joy like that keeps you coming back for more. My annual card-spewing frenzy is the only ritual that’s stayed the same since I was 22 years old.

Some details have evolved, but the experience feels sacrosanct. When my sons came along, I suppose you could say I tweaked my design aesthetic — subbing in photos of them for my inscrutable attempts at representational art. And self-sealing envelopes delivered me from affliction. What’s stayed constant through the years is this tangible record of reaching out to nourish a bond. Words and pictures on paper, my chicken-scratch inscriptions, sent to a long list of people I cherish via the U.S. Postal Service (and long may it thrive).

I wonder, sometimes, now that we are a digital tribe, why I don’t adapt. I could once again join the crowd and start sending salutations online, my well-wishes wafting as a disembodied dispatch to whomever might happen to notice it float by in a social media feed. So many other people have changed their ways, why not me? When their greetings pop up on my screen, I'm delighted. Thus, why do I think this year-end production of mine is worth the blood, sweat and tears … and high-priced cardstock and printer ink and postage?

Why not surprise myself and all my friends and relations and skip the bother of hard copy?

Truly, because you never can predict, that might be my path one day.

But, nope, not today.

Today? Well, dang. I should have seen this coming. It’s already late December, and this year’s card will not be concocting itself.

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Sharon Brody Twitter News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.

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