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Just Thinking: Picking Christmas cards no longer is a demanding chore

Margo Bartlett
Guest columnist

Years ago, when I was busy with young children, a full-time job, a needy house and a well that occasionally ran dry – once on Christmas Eve – I nevertheless dedicated significant time to picking out Christmas cards.

I had standards in those days.

Margo Bartlett

I arrived at the boxed Christmas card displays with a list of predetermined requirements:

My card couldn’t be too small, too big, too glittery or too cute. I wasn’t looking for a trio of kings on camels, but I didn’t want a mildly offensive Far Side cartoon, either.

The printed greeting had to be brief, leaving me plenty of room to write my own message, but also sincere.

An appearance by Santa was OK but only as one aspect of the greater holiday season. A card cut in the shape of a wreath or a Christmas tree or a stocking automatically was rejected, as were cards with bunnies, kittens or splay-legged fawns cavorting in snow. I definitely didn’t want comic-strip characters, even beloved ones. 

Finally, the envelopes had to be colored. Red was best, with green a close second. Cards with white envelopes were eliminated even if they met all other criteria. 

Choosing cards was hard work. Naming a secretary of state would be easier. Settling on the annual Christmas greeting was as complicated as a British royal wedding and was only one of many holiday challenges: developing the Christmas dinner menu, frosting dozens of sweet rolls with a pile of confectioners' sugar comparable to a city’s yearly road-salt supply and feverishly counting gifts to ensure each daughter’s pile was exactly the same were other festal chores to which I assigned myself.

And in case you’re wondering, I never noticed the color of Christmas mail we received, let alone judged the senders accordingly. The rules were for me alone. 

Yes, successfully negotiating the maze of my Christmas card demands left me qualified to oversee the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, not that I had time for that.

I was busy following the rules.

A person who starts cutting herself slack in the Christmas card department is a person who will purchase notebook paper that doesn’t have perforated edges for easy tearing, a person who will fail to peel the little stickers from fruit so they wind up in the salad.  

The year the well ran dry, my family attended the midnight Christmas Eve service. I spent most of the hour thinking about having 16 people in a house without water for cooking, washing or flushing. I took no comfort from the knowledge that my Christmas cards had gone out in red envelopes, yet I continued to follow my stringent card rules for several more years.

But no more. I can’t put my finger on the year I abandoned all the rules, snorted at the guidelines and threw my lists out the window, but it wasn’t this year, last year or the year before that.

I’m no longer raising daughters; I’m hanging out with their children. While I continue in nonpandemic years to welcome two dozen people to Christmas dinner, that’s not on the schedule in 2020. Neither am I baking dozens of cinnamon rolls. We have a reliable water source. We own a dishwasher.

I have all the time in the world to obsess about the finer points of holiday greetings.

And yet today, I spent a total of 45 seconds perusing a store’s boxed Christmas cards. With the efficiency of a professional cowboy, I culled from the herd two boxes whose art, message, size and price didn’t offend me and went to the checkout line with a pleasant feeling of accomplishment.

I left the cards on the counter when I got home, and I realized hours later how far I’ve come: I have no idea what color the envelopes are.

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.