Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Cards

Christmas postcard date unknown, circa 1900.
Christmas postcard date unknown, circa 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I can be pretty anal sometimes. For example, I keep track of all our spending, to the penny, in Quicken. I use Google Calendar to manage my time, including three reminders each day to take pills and a daily 4:00 reminder to watch Ellen. I have an elaborate document filing system that preserves the last seven years’ worth of mostly useless paperwork. Perhaps most telling, I can’t imagine how anyone could lead a productive and happy life doing anything less than what I do. Seriously.

But the epitome of my anality might be my system for managing Christmas cards.

I have an Excel spreadsheet that tracks every Christmas card we’ve sent or received for the past few years. Well, actually, for the past 22 years. One of my great disappointments, and something that I can never go back and change, is the fact that I didn’t do this for the first 4 years of our marriage. What was I thinking? How did I manage my Christmas cards back then? Did I, gulp, write it all down on a piece of paper?

For each person who we sent or received a card from in the past 22 years, I have columns for last names, first names, street address, city, state, and zip. After that I have a column for status – either active, inactive, or receive only. Then, for each year since 1990 I have two columns – sent and received. I put an X in the appropriate column(s).

We (and when I say we, I mean I) have some loosely enforced rules about whom we send Christmas cards to. For example, if we’ve been exchanging cards with one another for a while and you skip a year, that’s okay. You are forgiven (we are not a monster after all). But if you skip two consecutive years, that’s it. No card for you! However, we have granted several exemptions. My good friends and lifelong bachelors, David in Las Vegas and Louie in Cleveland, each get a free pass. Old people who simply can no longer manage to send out Christmas cards get a pass. Kim’s college roommates, Becky and Dawn, who just aren’t Christmas card type people, are each lucky recipients of a lifetime pass. We’re going to keep sending these people cards every year whether they like it or not. After all, they cannot employ an automated spam folder for snail mail, now can they?

Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle 1848,...
Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle 1848, adapted for Godey's Lady's Book, December 1850 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In our division of marital duties, I’ve always been the Christmas card guy. But thanks to MS, and what it’s done to my hands, I’ve had to drag Kim into this annual task. I still manage the Excel spreadsheet. I use Microsoft Word to extract data from the spreadsheet, creating a mailmerge document that I then print out using special label paper. This way Kim doesn’t have to write out the addresses on the envelopes by hand. Until last year I could still help with certain tasks like putting the stamps on the envelopes. Now, all those handsy jobs are completed by Kim.

I do consider the big picture once in a while. Must we continue with Christmas cards, at least in this way, indefinitely? First, I’m a modern, tecky guy (for someone my age). Isn’t there a way to accomplish this using online tools instead of the post office? I haven’t done a lot of research on the matter, but it seems unlikely that sending a virtual Christmas card would create such a warm, fuzzy feeling on the receiver’s end. This may not always be the case, but I think it is for now.

Second, I have to ask myself if all the work associated with sending out Christmas cards is worth it. How many people would think less of us if we didn’t? But we have such a long history (well-documented, at that) of sending cards that I hate to lose our momentum. For many people on our list, this is the only time we communicate with one another all year. And I must admit, it’s kind of fun to receive as many cards as we do. I assume, however, that if we stopped sending cards we would stop receiving them. So, for now we are forging ahead, but I can’t guarantee that at some point in the future we won’t let ourselves off the hook.

Incidentally, you may wonder why a blasphemous heathen like me sends out Christmas cards at all. Well, it’s because I choose to celebrate a secular version of Christmas. If you are a fellow atheist who thinks I’m selling out by participating in a Christian holiday, get over it. If you are Christian and you don’t feel that I have the right to participate in what you may consider your holiday, well, Christmas makes me happy. End of story.

Now back to the topic at hand...

I’d like to know your thoughts on Christmas cards. Do you participate in this age-old tradition? How do you make the job easier or add more depth and meaning to your holiday correspondence?

And finally, for all of you who enjoy Enjoying the Ride, whether you are in my Excel spreadsheet or not…

May Peace, Joy, Love and Good Health be yours during this Holiday Season and throughout the New Year.

Season’s Greetings from The Sturgeons!
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  1. From one OCD to another, yes, I follow pretty much the same routine! My husband now does the labels and stamps, too. Now -- here's where we part paths... until my hand stopped cooperating, I used to make all of my cards. That's right -- three kids, full time job, for some years graduate school, and a house that looks like I vomited Christmas -- and I made my cards for years. Now, I still design them in my head, but complete them on the computer.
    Do you think there's any connection to being totally anal and getting MS?
    To you and your family, the same blessings (er, sentiments) you mention!

  2. Well, Mitch, I have to admit that I do not mail nearly as many cards as I used to, BUT I probably end up exchanging more of them. Here's the thing - I belong to a service sorority and each year at our Christmas dinner party we make bags for everyone to take with them. In those bags go our christmas cards, sans postage. It's a win-win. And some of the cards include candy canes or a chocolate or an ornament. It's fun, is what it is.

    P.S. That is probably why I still like christmas too. Because it's fun.

  3. Merry Christmas to you and Kim! I do the Christmas card labels and cards but do not keep track of who sends in return. I have fifty six first cousins and hundreds of second and third. It is also the one time of year I acknowledge their existance. I do this for me, it makes me feel good.
    Have a wonderful holiday, enjoy the season for whatever reason.

  4. ahahahahaha! Me too, Mitch! But now I'm going to stir up your already over the top list-making tendencies by telling you that not only do I have years & years & YEARS of tracking of who I sent to and received from, I also can tell you the DATE I sent to them and the DATE I received from them!

    Yup, no mere X's for me. After all, then I can tell who might have just sent one to me because I sent one to them. Not a fail-safe technique but telling after a while. In this way, one can wait to see if one gets one before one sends one! I've whittled my list from 100 to 80 this way over 20 years, and yes, I give lots of free passes too.

    Is this the "MS Personality" they refer to?

    Merry Christmas Kim & Mitch!

  5. My hands are now useless as well. The act of trying to put a stamp on an envelope can take up to five minutes as well as leave me utterly exhausted. Thus, I have turned to the online card store Shutterfly which will keep a contact list for you enable you to download a photo to your card and even mail them for you!!! There are many card websites that do this. Anything to make life easier. Happy Festivus

  6. Ok, for my house I rip off the return label of the envelope if I receive a "new" card, and stick it in the front page of my old fashioned address book. Also a few passes, in the end we give and receive about the same amount. I enjoy displaying each of the cards. I always look forward to checking the mail from Thanksgiving-New Years to see cards from family and friends. E-cards are just not the same. Jen J

  7. Once too! I compusively make lists about everything. People would be astounded at some of the weird things that I track and write down.

    Except that I've never done Christmas cards. Well, maybe once. Not out of any objection to a christian holiday or hipster blase, but out of pure laziness and overwhelmedness (it is too a word). Every year, I intend this to be the one that I get my shit together for a christmas card, especially since I've been married and had kids. But I somehow never get around to it. And every year, I am amazed that people continue to send me cards despite my non-reciprocation.

    I have, however, gotten in the habit of emailing my extended family once a year in September. It started out as a simple fundraising plea, as I raise money for the Alzheimer's Association (it runs in my family). That has morphed into a newsey update of my family that most people reserve for christmas letters. This year I even included pictures of my mom with my baby. So, eh, it gets done, kind of, in my own time and way. And raises money for a good cause.

    I do believe that some of the picture-developing websites (Shutterfly? etc) allow you to create your own cards AND send them online. I'm not sure how easy it is to input address information or whether a mail merge would be possible as I've never tried it myself. Something to consider anyway, to avoid the manual stuff.

    Have a wonderful holiday!

  8. I suspect that if you stopped sending out Christmas cards, the people on your list would panic and worry that you were "no longer with us"....and they would be too uncomfortable to ask. I vote for continuing. Some others before me had some great ideas involving Shutterfly, etc.......Ginny

  9. P.S. On the other hand, I am picturing an archaeologist of the future digging up your spreadsheets for Christmas cards ("Hey, Larry! Come look at this!!") and publishing papers about our traditions that maybe are not spot on.......Ginny

  10. Muff,

    I don't have an artistic bone in my body, so I cannot imagine making or even designing my own cards. Good for you!


    Yes, let's have a fun Christmas this year.


    It's good that you find enjoyment sending out all those cards, otherwise it would seem like such a chore. What a big family!


    I am unworthy. You put me to shame :-)


    Yes, I am definitely looking into the shutter fly situation for next year.


    I think that the annual letter gets a bad rap. It is the butt of many jokes, but I always find them fun to read when I get them.


    You make a good point, which I hadn't thought of. Reminds me of the time I went back to my hometown two years into my diagnosis and an old acquaintance said that he was surprised to see me because he had heard I was on my deathbed!

    Will future archaeologists dig up spreadsheets instead of bones?


    I just received a very high quality e-card from a business associate. I'm not sure she read my blog are not. Anyway, you might want to check this out:

    I am also going to give this consideration for next year.

  11. Hiya Mitch! Lucky for me, my wife handles cards. I, like you, have an unhealthy Excel tracking habit. I've been keeping track of every dinner I've had since the early 2000's. Why? No idea.

    There has been, as usual, discussions of the "war on christmas". Thought this NYTimes article had an interesting OpEd which points out how celebrating christmas was once illegal in America.

    Pax vobiscum!

  12. Darren,

    Fascinating New York Times article. Thanks for sharing.


    Here's an update on my Christmas cards. I liked the options so much that I sent out about half my Christmas cards that way this year. I couldn't wait for next year.

  13. I'm loving your blog Mitch! You have to check out You can upload a spreadsheet create your card from a template or get as creative as you like with photos message etc and then they mail it all for you. The cards look really nice. Recipient still get something tangible but you don't have to do all the work!