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One Man

One Man's Plan: Where's the heart in Christmas cards?

MIKE MARLAND / For the Monitor

MIKE MARLAND / For the Monitor

With the yuletide clock ticking down on this holiday season, I need a time-out. A man can hear only so many versions of “Santa Baby” sung in a half-toddler, half-boozy-harlot voice before he questions his worth as a human. And I’ll put up with the tedious debate about “Christmas” versus “holidays” for only so long before I give in and remove my 9-foot inflatable Old Saint Nick lawn decoration out of deference to those Santa agnostics in the neighborhood. I’ll replace him with “Slappy Nick,” the non-denominational 5-inch garden gnome in a red tunic who appears to be on cholesterol medication and may have had some sherry with lunch. And I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m confident wassailing is legal but sounds inappropriate, as in, “Dude, I had some eggnog and wassailed all over her front porch. In a top hat!”

But nothing causes me more angst during the holiday season than Christmas cards. They come in wave after wave, crashing into my mailbox with the force of stale fruitcake shards hurled by striking elves. The cards start arriving in late November and continue through early January, adorned with smiling faces, cats drinking tea and families at play. Messages of “Joy and Happiness,” “Merry and Bright,” and “Peace and Hope,” abound. But as I look past the leaping children, wedding shots and well-groomed pets, I see only evidence of a tradition that needs mending.

First, there’s the “Former Friend,” the most popular Christmas card, and the worst offender of holiday form over function, delivered by the dozens unsigned. If my address serves as proof that we’re friends, then I’m also best buds with the Yoga
Nation catalogue publisher and my local payday loan proprietor. No note? Not a word? At least a stranger like Rayleene!! from The Longhorn gives me a heartfelt, “Thanks!!” No “Hey guys! Great karate party last summer! Have a swell holiday!” Or even the delusional but sweet, “2013’s definitely the Mets’ year!”

Apparently the decades of chats, shared secrets and common bonds of friendship have sapped you of all strength to scrawl a single phrase. Merry Christmas to you too, Mr. Potter.

How about the “One Percenter” card? These float to my home on the wings of partridges in envelopes crafted from select papyrus reeds and unicorn fibers. The photo invariably depicts a grinning family in its natural habitat, either on the beaches of St. Tropez or the slopes of Hinterglemm, in matching outfits of denim and white shirts or escutcheon-adorned unitard ski suits. But this audience would just as soon skip penning a note as they would skip the gardener’s tip, so these smiling senders offer tiny clues of caring, often a single red line slashed through the printed greeting, a wry hint that yes, they do wish me a Merry Christmas, and they mean it! “The O’Sheas are dear to us, Lovey, so be a crumpet and add a red pen mark through our name as proof of our enduring friendship. Now back to the slopes!”

But few things capture and kill the holiday spirit like the “Dear Everyone” card-letter combo, that two-page rambling essay hand-written in haste, mailed two weeks after the tree’s been tossed to the curb and the Tyco Racing Set’s already been broken and discarded under the divan, right where little Freddy left it on Boxing Day. These annual family manifestos run the gamut from celebratory, (“The Reform School Reunion was a success!”) to explanatory (“Sadly, the tattoo artist’s fee was better than his spelling . . .”), and from cautionary (“As Cousin Polecat can confirm, chili cook-offs and screwtop wine are not a good match . . .”) to hopeful (“And Whitman, our Princeton graduate, has moved on from Occupy Wall Street into Occupy Basement without a hitch. Job search starts in January!”).

So for the remainder of this holiday season, I refuse to listen to another bloated Groban/Bolton/Bublé interpretation of “What Child is This?” or open one more Christmas card until someone sends me one with feeling.

Until then, I’ll be with Slappy Nick and Rayleene!! on my front lawn, wassailing my woes away.

(Email Tim your comments
or suggestions at
timcoshea@gmail.com.)

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