Christmas in our house starts Thanksgiving weekend. That’s when I pull out the decorations, turn on the music, and, most importantly, order my Christmas cards — one of my favorite traditions of the season. This is the one time of the year when I forgo technology in favor of good old-fashioned pen and paper. I’m thinking mine is one of the last generations who grew up writing letters in longhand, sending them through the US mail for the cost of a stamp, then waiting for the reply, which rarely came quickly enough. It was how you stayed in touch and kept far-away friends and family up to date, while reassuring yourself that the big wide world was really not such a lonely place. Sure, you could call, but it wasn’t cheap — even if you waited until Sunday night when rates were lowest. As a student, I usually had a phone just long enough to run up a massive bill I couldn’t pay and then I was without a phone again. But letters could be sent for the cost of a couple coins. And, I see now that hand writing them made for a sense of intimacy, connection. In time, I typed the letters and then came computers and email, and the old-fashioned letters I’d started writing somewhere around the age of eight were forgotten.
Except this one time of the year.
I started writing Christmas cards after we left our friends and Chan’s family in Alaska and moved to the lower 48. I missed the old crowd, but also there was so much to tell. From the start I sent out upwards of 60 cards. I learned quick to buy them after Christmas for the following year when I could get them for at least 50-percent off. Sitting at the table in kitchens from one side of the country to the other and back, I’d write a personal note, sometimes a page or more, sharing the news of our year, our hopes for the coming one. One year, my mom bought me a lap desk from Levenger’s, a catalog company that specializes in accessories for writers. It is wood, just over 30 inches across, shaped like a fat crescent moon and meant to fit across your lap, with each end resting on the arms of the chair. It even has its own little wood stand, which it rests in vertically, prompting no end of questions over the years as to its use. I don’t recall the exact year she bought it for me, but I’m guessing the early ’90s. From then on, I traded the kitchen table for whatever happened to be my current favorite living room chair and I wrote, boxes of cards teetering on one end of the desk, my address book and the yellow notepad with the list of addressees at the other, me and the card in progress in the middle.
Over the years, I got a little fussier about the cards I sent. For several years, all my cards were accented in glitter — woodsy scenes, winter city shots, mountain tableaux — all aglow with glitter. They sparkled and shimmered; and made a mess.
Then came the year when I bought the Highway 101 tree ornament and realized it might make a cool card in its own right. I bundled an old miniature Christmas tree down to the dunes in South Beach, strung on a couple strands of garland, hung my single ornament and topped it with a star.
And what do you know, coming from the non-crafty, minimally artistic me, it wasn’t bad. Every holiday season since, I’ve whiled away bored hours dreaming up the next year’s Christmas card. There was the year with the white and red tree on the ocean’s edge, ditto on the bridge to Ona Beach. There’ve been collages of us and the pups, and last year’s sunrise shot of the Yaquina Bay Bridge. This year’s card was decided before most had even put away last year’s decorations. That was early January when we got a measurable amount of snow and I shot a picture of Luna standing in it like a little snow queen. My sister used an app to enhance it with a glow of swirling flakes and the shot for the Christmas card of 2017 was ready. I even ordered them early this year. And so I passed the cool winter evenings, Mom’s gift on my lap, a fire in the woodstove and my heart content with the spirit of Christmas.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.