The first greeting card of the season arrived in the mail the other day–yes, the mail, the kind that still requires a postage stamp and a short walk out to the mailbox in below-freezing temperatures to retrieve. The sending and receiving of Christmas cards is a holiday ritual that I look forward to. I still personally send and receive a goodly number of them–last year I mailed off nearly 100. I count myself fortunate that I know that many people to whom I would like to send greetings of the season.
In recent years, I’ve received more ‘e-cards’ but there is something wonderful about ripping open the paper envelope, sliding out the card and holding in your hand a paper card from someone you know even if you only hear from them by mail at this time of year. The convenience of the Internet certainly has impacted the way we correspond with our friends and family. It’s great to be able to sit down and chat via electronically on one of many of the modes of communication now available to us, just as I did this morning with my cousin in Los Angeles. But for me, I still enjoy the old-fashioned Christmas card when it comes to wishing everyone a happy holiday.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been busy in the studio designing, ordering and delivering holiday cards to my photography clients. The cards feature the portraits I’ve taken of them either on the front cover or inside or both along with a personal message conveying their best wishes to their loved ones and friends. It’s terrific fun to help them select just the right design for the photo they’ve chosen and pen a verse to say exactly what they want, if they haven’t already written it themselves. And it’s even more rewarding to see how happy and pleased they are when I show them the finished product.
My family has been creating Christmas cards for as long as I can remember. Longer, in fact, as for my very first Christmas, my parents sent off a card with a photograph of me, cuddled in the arms of my beaming father with my beautiful mother next to him and the Christmas tree, trimmed in silver tinsel and shiny glass balls, behind us.
In the photo, I look less than interested but I am so thrilled now to have this tangible Christmas memory, to be able to feel the thickness of the stiff-backed panel card and the embossed greeting and design on the front. The names of my parents are also embossed onto the card but my name has been hand-printed in red, ball-point ink below it. Maybe they didn’t anticipate including me in the picture when they ordered the card or maybe it was simply a printer’s mistake or limitation of the number of lines that could be included. The photo itself is a ‘sepia-toned’ wallet that has been inserted and affixed in the pre-cut rounded-corner opening. I have only one of these cards which found in a drawer my parents’ home during a visit there. I cherish it as I would a priceless jewel, more in fact.
Throughout my childhood, my brothers and I posed for the annual Christmas card photo. Sometimes we included the family cat. Sometimes we were wearing pajamas, other times our Sunday-best. Sometimes we were placed at the piano or playing our instruments. The year my youngest brother arrived, my aunt Marie made an oversized red flannel stocking into which my six-month-old brother was carefully stuffed while my other brother and I held it open. I know that there were years when I was less than excited about having to stand still while my dad, also a fine professional photographer, took the picture. But now, I am so grateful that he and my mother insisted.
In the days when black and white was the only option, Dad had to print the Christmas card pictures himself on photographic paper, many of which doesn’t exist any more. These photos would then be inserted into the card, just as I still do for myself and clients today. In some cases, he printed the entire card on photographic paper. I don’t know how he found the time to do them as the holidays was always busy enough just trying to fulfill customers’ orders.
With the advent of Kodak’s ‘slimline’ greeting cards, the actual production of the card became a little easier. We still had to take time out for my dad to shoot the photo, but it was far less work on the back-end for him to create it. The task of addressing and stamping all those cards, and I’m sure there were plenty because I have a large, extended family, fell to my mom.
I have carried on the tradition in my own family. My three sons long ago learned that it was better just to go along with the yearly photo session than to protest. One of my personal favorites is of them standing on our front walk, with the snow flurries flying around them. Another that I’ll treasure for as long as I live is the one I took of my sons with my parents during one of their last visits to my home.
I like to believe now that they are young men that they actually appreciate my efforts. I am sure they will once they have families of their own. Because over the years, it’s all those pictures that help us to share with others the way we lived and the people we loved. During the holiday season, I display the photo cards my parents made. It keeps my family close to me now that my mother has passed away and my father lives far away. And they remind me of holidays past. So while we live in an exciting era of instantaneous, electronic communication, I continue this old-fashioned practice of sending a personal, paper greeting card to my family and friends. Perhaps, one day, my cards will become holiday heirlooms too.