I suppose we could start with the image of me, at midnight on a Friday night, covered in confetti and dog hair, glugging gin and tonics like soda whilst daubing images of myself, my dog, and my cat with a glue stick. Perhaps this is a testament to me being a certified Crazy Person; perhaps it speaks to the perils of living alone – either way, in my defence, I was perfectly content. I had given myself a delightfully juvenile project to occupy the expanse of free time I usually find difficult to fill: I had decided to make and send a small heap of Christmas cards.
Christmas cards were always just a “done” thing, in my family. To this day, my Nan displays the annual Christmas cards sent to her by her nephew (the only other member of our family who upped and moved to America) in a shambly, semi-chronological order across the walls of her dining room. My Grandma props cards I’ve sent her over the years – all smiling visions of a previous me and varying iterations of my family unit – on miscellaneous ledges around her tiny, storybook cottage. Every year, my dad sits at the kitchen table, glasses perched halfway down his nose, and squints down at his address book as he trots out greetings in pen to every single friend and family member that graces its pages. And as a child, I was ingrained to do the same – all my friends at school, all my family members. They all got a card. Everyone got a card.
Put simply: somewhere along the line, I learnt that sending cards at Christmastime is the most basic gesture of affection and respect to people you give a shit about.
As an adult – and a married one, at that – I continued the tradition, albeit lazily. My ex-husband dubbed me “the PR person” in our relationship and, in many ways, I was entirely that. I was the relative-caller, the social media campaigner, and – perhaps my favorite task of this domestic billet – I was also a diligent mail-sender. Every year, I would hop onto TinyPrints or Shutterfly and curate our yearly Happy Family propaganda. I still like to think our cards were good ones – I recently remembered one corker that featured my ex’s hand disappearing mysteriously behind his cat’s rear end – but, in hindsight, it strikes me as a somewhat trite effort. I would order fifty-something cards and have every single one routinely sent out by mid-December, my only handwriting efforts exhausted by grinding out address after address for people that, in some cases, I didn’t even really care for (such is the fate of a Marine Corps officer spouse, but that’s another story).
And then divorce became A Thing, in the fall of 2018.
The problem was, I was living in our married home while he was overseas. As Christmas drew nearer, I was already in the throes of something I can only describe as a state of manic depression. The tipping point came in the mail: card after card addressed to “Captain and Mrs Byrne,” “the Byrne family,” “Mr and Mrs Byrne.” I had thought, given the timing of everything, that our parting of ways was a well-known event. But unfortunately, the power of Facebook only goes so far, and many missed the memo. I doubt any of our friends and relatives are obtuse – or cruel – enough to knowingly make such a mistake, but either way, the contents of our mailbox presented itself to me as a callous reminder that I was no longer the PR person for anyone but myself. I remember crying a lot before I threw them out.
I didn’t really celebrate Christmas that year. No presents were bought. No cards were sent. The extent of my decorating ended with one light-up sign that read “NOEL” – which, amusingly, faltered halfway through Christmas day to simply read “NO.”
This year, I’m registering Christmas insofar that I’m travelling home to England to be with my family again. I hadn’t thought to decorate, because a) very few people ever step foot in my apartment, which suits me just fine, and b) I gave away all my Christmas decorations in the process of moving. I hadn’t thought about gifts, nor had I written my own letter to Santa because – truth be told – I outgrew gift exchanges when I had to start worrying about bills again.
I also hadn’t thought about Christmas cards, because Christmas cards cost money, and besides – I didn’t have a cute family portrait to adorn the walls and fridges of my friends and relatives.
But then a good friend of mine reached out. She wanted my address. My address.
I am not proud of my first thought, but it was essentially a mental eye-roll. Great, I thought. Another smug fucking family to let me know I’m not one of Those People any more.
And then I thought twice.
I realized I do have a family. And I do have wonderful friends. I do have a network. I do have people I give a shit about. And I do really, really love sending mail.
And so it was that I decided to reclaim Christmas. And this time, I decided to do it in the way that felt truly organic to me: I was going to handwrite every single one of those notes and I would do it with pride. I would do it exactly as my parents do, exactly the way I was raised, and exactly the way I show people my affection for them. I would do it the old-fashioned way, because – to me, at least – Christmas is about love, not likes.
The next day, I made a pitstop on my way to work to scour Target for cards; the project was quickly complicated by the fact that my local Target is woefully understocked on decently designed festive greetings on pleasantly-weighted cardstock. My alternatives seemed scant. As someone who recently accepted the fact that a minimum wage job does not permit for luxuries, but who remains snobby enough to look down upon garish design work, I was limited. A mass purchase of small-batch, locally-handcrafted holiday cards would have been attainable at another nearby store, but this is a store that I Am Not Allowed To Enter Because I Will Spend Too Much Money In It.
And then: a revelation. I would make these goddamn Christmas cards myself. I would muster all the quiet energy of my stepmother – who begins her annual Christmas-card-craft session somewhere in early November – and I would produce thirty-something identical, perfectly imperfect little suckers that would put all the smug TinyPrints efforts of my past to shame.
I began at 8pm. By 8 AM the next day – between gin, procrastination, sleep, a couple of dog walks, and some coffee – the first fifteen were on their way.
It may sound absurd. It probably is absurd. Here I am, a single woman in her mid-to-late twenties, whose idea of fun is (apparently) staying up half the night and eagerly ploughing through a mildly-drunk crafting session. But it was also a labor of love, a therapy session, and a milestone all of its own.
It was a reminder to myself that I am enough, as I am, just in the same way that I see my loved ones. It was a reminder that I don’t need a lot of money to let the good people in my life know that I’m thinking about them when I’m far away. It was a reminder that putting some time and energy into a project – one that will garner a smile on the faces of people who matter to me – is, at the end of the day, the best kind of project there is. And trucking through those notes and thinking about each person – that is, really thinking about them for a moment – is, in and of itself, being close to them when life throws everyone all over this planet.
And so it is, on that note, that I implore you to write to people this Christmas, and every Christmas hereafter – regardless of your whereabouts, and regardless of the fact that you have a nice photo to go along with it. Your handwriting will, of course, be a pleasant break between the catalogs and the coupons and the unopened bills – but you will also make someone smile in a way that a text message, a DM, or a snapchat cannot. It will reconnect you in a way that the Internet snatches away from us on a daily basis.
Moreover, it’ll make you smile, too. Believe me when I say that there’s a very warm satisfaction to be found in engaging mind to pen to paper at a methodical pace. Notecards and biros are not only cheaper than their impersonal, Instagrammable counterparts, but they’re also cheaper than therapy.
And if gin-and-tonic-fuelled art projects have become the hallmark of my madness, I’d like to think I’m doing alright. A smattering of Bridget Jones syndrome never hurt anyone, after all. And besides: the world could always do with more confetti, more photos of my dog, and more kind words from a good place.