About the second week in December each year, our parents would start stressing over Christmas cards. The exceptions to the rule were the few early-bird relatives and friends who made it their Thanksgiving regimen: mail Christmas cards in November so that everyone would receive them the first week of December. Despite the early-birds, it was an annual ritual that many dreaded, while others reveled in sharing their holiday spirit. For Mister Boomer’s parents, it was a little of both.
Each year the conversation began — very often while in the car, en route to and from Christmas shopping — about what would be done THIS year. It was never a question of whether a card would be sent, just a matter of how many would be sent, and what type of card it would be. The latter part of the equation was often solved by what types of cards were available in the largest number per box at the cheapest price. The Mister Boomer family was not to be known for luxurious and extravagant cards. It was rare when a purchase by Mister B’s mom would have accompanying envelopes with a strip of gold foil inside them — a sure sign of elegance and that someone was spending more on their cards. Rather, the envelope was more likely to show the contents through its thin layer of paper.
Mister Boomer’s mother lead the charge to Christmas card sending. On the designated day, usually on a weekend, Mister B and his siblings were instructed to take their positions around the dining room table. In production line fashion, his mom would sign cards with a blue ink pen, making sure to write the name of each family member, and maybe add a personal note of a sentence or two. Meanwhile one of the Boomer kids would write the address on the envelope, finding the recipient’s name in the family address book. A return address sticker — usually supplied for free by numerous charities looking for holiday donations — would be affixed to the upper left-hand corner of the envelope. Sometimes, in true old-fashioned style, Mister B’s mother would write the return address on the flap of the envelope on the reverse side of the envelope.
With card and envelope married, another Boomer child would affix a stamp and seal the deal. Mister Boomer got that chore fairly often since his brother and sister didn’t care for the job, and they were more vocal than he. Mister B didn’t like it much either. After licking a few stamps and envelopes, the taste of glue would permeate the mouth. One year Sister Boomer had a brainstorm and brought in a damp sponge from the kitchen. She slid the stamp over the sponge and quickly adhered it to the envelope in the upper right-hand corner, as was the postal requirement. What the Boomer children soon learned, though, was that not enough water on the sponge meant the stamp would not stick, nor the envelope seal. Too much water had the same effect. Consequently, cellophane tape was on hand to save the day.
Mister B’s mother would set aside any of the cards for his father to sign that were going to go to co-workers or top brass at his workplace. Each of the owners and supervisors got a Christmas card from Mister Boomer’s family, and they would send one in return, too. Mister Boomer was awed by the heavy weight of the envelopes with their gold or silver lining. Inside, the person’s name was printed on the card. Mister Boomer felt these people must be rich to afford such luxury.
There were more than a hundred cards sent by the family each year. A good portion of that was just immediate family. Mister Boomer’s parents, like many of their generation, grew up in large families. The oldest of the cousins who were married and on their own made the list, too. Neighbors, family friends and Mister B’s father’s co-workers rounded out the total. A few cards were always reserved “just in case” the Boomer household received a card from someone who wasn’t on the list.
People had been exchanging Christmas cards for a few generations before Baby Boomers arrived on the scene. Mister Boomer has chronicled this history in a post two years ago (Boomers Were Reminded to “Mail Early”). In it, he wondered whether the sending of cards would be eclipsed by e-cards or would disappear entirely. Mister B has a long history of sending cards himself, though he prefers a more personalized greeting of his own design. After receiving less than one dozen cards last year — snail mail and e-card delivery — he is now wondering whether the time has come to evaluate the entire ritual for his own practices. We boomers stand at the same precipice we have faced several times before: when the 8-track tape was phased out, the cassette tape, the VCR, and more. Boomers, unlike previous generations, have been known to adapt to change very well. When that change can mean less work, we seem to embrace it all the more quickly.
Mister B remains on the fence on this one, torn between tradition and nostalgia and the march of modernity. So, to send or not to send: where do you stand on the sending of Christmas cards, boomers?