It’s always the same friend who sends them out first. More than ornaments being sold in stores, or evergreens arriving in the parking lots around town, when I open the mailbox to find their annual holiday card, I feel myself shifting into another gear.
I wish I could say that arrival was wholly happy. That I am the woman who pauses on the curb with her coffee, noting how her friend’s children have grown. Then when I have soaked in the goodness I return into my house to turn on holiday carols and sip cocoa while I work. Yet over the last decade, as my list of responsibilities grew along with my children, the woman who wants to slow and be present has been eclipsed by the one who has things to do.
Too often, the shift to the holidays doesn’t feel like the gentle beginning of a special season. Instead it takes a tone of nervous anticipation for what’s coming: more things to do. These nerves don’t allow for time on the curb. They prod me to hustle inside, organizing mail on the way for efficiency. No cocoa made with care—just a coffee top-off. The cards go into the designated corner of the kitchen where I keep them so my husband and children can look if they’d like. And I’m off to the races.
Last year it wasn’t until the evening of Christmas when I finally stopped running. Presents unwrapped. Everyone fed. Leftovers ready for later. I slowed long enough to let myself breathe. Leaned up against our kitchen counter with the stack of cards in hand, I started to go through them one by one.
In that stack I saw what one might expect. Friends on holiday vacations. Faces of children who had gotten braces. Little ones who were toddling around for the first time. But I also saw something between those smiling faces—the effort and intention people had put into sending their messages. I thought back to my own decision a couple of months before. It had seemed so easy to make at the time, when I decided to skip doing a family holiday card that year. Maybe you can guess at the excuses I made for myself: People I’m close with see my kids plenty. I keep friends (sort of) updated on my life through social media. And who cares about getting yet another card?
The woman who feels weighed down by things to do may not have cared about another card. But in the twilight of another holiday about to pass, the woman who very much wants to live her life and not just have it keep sliding by cared a lot.
Each one of those cards in my hand represented someone who had decided to stop the clock and mark the moment. We won’t just be scrollable faces. Our presence won’t only be marked on the internet. You matter and we want you to know that, so we are sending you a card to hold in your hands, to study and take note of, to remember as a personalized greeting from our corner of the universe to yours.
I decided then and there I’d had it with the woman who thought getting things done was more important than loving well. I wanted people to know I cared. Not just the people I saw regularly. Not just the people who are part of our family. I wanted the work friends from two jobs ago to know I sometimes still reminisced over meetings we spent together, in shared solidarity to make it through the day. That I missed their jokes, our lunches. I wanted my grandmother’s neighbors to know that even though she had moved from the home where she spent forty years by their literal sides, they are remembered. The way they would charge through the backdoor, coming over because they knew my grandmother wanted to show off her family to anyone with time to see. I wanted families we cared about, but rarely got to gather with, to know we think of them, especially during this season that is busy for everyone.
Can cards do all of that? Maybe not. But in some cases, perhaps they can. Sitting down at my kitchen table and carving out space to let it be so, would be a start. So I wouldn’t allow awareness of other "things to do" to rush the process, I set aside an entire afternoon for addressing the cards. I spread out different pens, pulled up my spreadsheet of addresses, and set out snacks to encourage visitors.
The kids came in and out of the kitchen, sometimes sitting down to see where I was on the list, a couple times even asking if they could help. I showed them how I was doing it. That for every name on the list, I was taking a moment to think about something that person had given to me in my life. The thing didn’t have to be big, and definitely did not need to be a material object. Once I had this pictured in my mind, I slid a card in an envelope, handwrote the person’s name, then added it to the stack.
"What if you can’t come up with something that person has given you?" My middle son wanted to know. A fair question, and maybe it’s yours as well. I told him of the person I had just completed—who had set up so many hurdles for me in the past year that she’d gifted me a chance to grow my resilience.
When I stood at the post office the next day, ready to drop off my stack of cards, I felt... disappointment. The "work" of putting cards together had felt like anything but. The names hadn’t been a long list to labor through. With the extra pause added, they became reminders of how our family had been carried over the years by others. It had made me hungrier for more connection with the ones who have shaped me, for carving out space to just tell people how much they are valued and loved. For the release I get when I let go of how I think I have been hurt and move forward by sending a card anyway. Can cards do all that? I felt it for myself.
Every day there’s the choice for me to slide into the fast pace of the holidays again. It’s always there, beckoning. When I feel that pull I think toward the cards, how they slowly spread out across the nation, making their ways into people’s mailboxes and days. That's the pace I want. That's what I want to do, too. To make like the cards, and just love.
More than words
What will your card say?
About the Author
Anna Mitchael is an author, magazine editor, and story collaborator, who also moonlights every month as an advice columnist named Boots. You can find more of her words and works on her Instagram, including updates on her most recent book, They Will Tell You the World is Yours.