SAN DIEGO — My wife was perplexed. "How is it that, no matter how many cards we send, we always receive less in return?"
I never could answer that question, but since our divorce, I've learned to stop counting. Now, I send about 50, and get back, I imagine, about 45.
I have noticed though, that of those I receive, very few ever stand out. The ones that do either have a photograph attached, or are very pretty, expensive or both. The rest gather dust on the mantel, then, at the first decent opportunity, they join the Christmas tree in the garbage. So receiving cards for this practical, busy homemaker is a bit of a bore.
My daughter runs to greet the letter carrier and flourishes a stack of cards.
"Look, Daddy," she calls. "A card from Nana." This one always includes news and maybe even a check. As for the others, well, it's normally something like, "Season's Greetings, Love, John, Martha and the kids." Why bother? Might as well save the cost of the card and the postage. Just write me a letter or give me a call--I'd appreciate it much more.
I realized that the cards I sent were the same--dust collectors. So I did something about it. No more are they of the "Why bother" variety. Now, at least, they are remembered.
Here are eight ways to make your Christmas or Hanukkah cards a joy to receive. Most involve creating a letter, game or puzzle, or taking a picture, but all are fun to do:
1. Who's who on your card list?
This is my favorite, and it all began when Aunt Jean wrote and said, "Who is this Peter in Dallas that you always write about?"
That year, when I made up my card list, I made notes on everyone. I then wrote a letter that included a paragraph on everyone from the list. There were 50, so I had 50 paragraphs. Here's what I wrote about Aunt Jean and Texas Pete:
"Aunt Jean lives in Idaho. I took my first steps on her front lawn. She and Uncle Sam are not really my blood relatives, but they were like family to my mom and dad for longer than I can remember."
"Peter lives in Dallas. We worked together years ago, back in Canada, and became best friends. He still follows ice hockey, though the nearest team must be a thousand miles away. We don't see much of each other any more, but we try to keep in touch."
Everyone got a copy of that letter with their card. I tried to inject warmth, love, personal anecdotes and humor.
Mostly though, I was complimentary, and the hard work and feedback made it all worthwhile.
2. Thank you for being my friend:
All too often we forget to thank our friends for being friends. Christmas is a great time to do just that, and by using a card list and letter, which includes paragraphs on each friend, a very special thank you can result:
"Harold and Margaret watched the twins this year, while I was looking for work. Their support removed a lot of the pressures I'd been carrying alone. It was a lot easier to relax at job interviews, knowing that they were there in the background pulling for me."
"My friend Marcia encouraged me to join her choir, so now I'm singing again. She even forced me back into my jogging shoes, after all those months. These new activities sure helped me get over the rough times, and to settle back into a normal life again."
People just love to hear how helpful they've been, and remember they are your friends, so don't worry if you don't produce the "great American novel." Just be yourself.
3. The where-were-you-in-'72 game.
You'll have fun with this idea. Pick several memorable years in your life, say 10. Go to the library, or go through your own bookshelves and record album collection, and you may come up with something like this:
"This was the year I moved to Chicago as a sales manager; Jimmy graduated from kindergarten; Nixon and Agnew were reelected; 'The Godfather' won the best picture Oscar; Roberta Flack sang 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.' What year was it?"
Right, 1972. That was too easy. But you'll have a lot of fun, trying to stump friends and relatives, and including some personal highlights, along with the more famous ones.
4. Calendar of events.
This one is straightforward and rather popular. To avoid presenting a list of self-absorbed facts, make it funny, or poetic, or both:
"January we flew down Mexico a ways. Next month we were sick for days and days.
"By March we were fine, so went camping nearby. We tracked Halley's comet across the sky."
No points for art, but less inane than you might expect in many of the commercial Christmas cards. And if poetry isn't your fancy, just stick to prose.
5. A photograph and story:
I know we've all seen the picture of cousin Beth's new baby, or Martha, John and kids in front of their new Buick.
So use a better picture. Take one somewhere special. Use your imagination. Write a story to go along with it: