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Yule Card Rules
Nancy Murphy

When it comes to holiday card giving, are there any common rules these days? I pondered that question recently as I noticed the first crop of cards showing up on stationer’s shelves. Maybe I spot them early because their sight fills me with a strange mix of hope and dread. The hope that maybe this year I will find the perfect card— clever, classy, moving, aesthetically pleasing, regional, multi-cultural, cross-religious, sweet enough for close friends yet not too mushy for business associates, and of course, original. The dread part should be obvious by now.

Usually I spend hours in about three or four upscale specialty book or card stores over a two-week period. Starting out excited at the prospect of finding The Great American card, I usually end up with a monstrous headache from the over-stimulation of looking at and reading literally hundreds of cards. My neck gets stiff from being cocked to one side as I work across the rows, my back gets sore from leaning down, and my knees ache from squatting.

After a while the hope fades and I try to talk some sense to myself. Does this really matter? Am I trying to make contact with people or impress them? Why can’t I find a card that pleases me and just send it to everyone? But I have found that by sticking to the one-card plan, I end up with an elegant but exceedingly bland "Happy New Year’s" card, one with thick cream-colored paper, one small black and white design in the center, and generic flat language. I mean, why bother?

So I slowly gather a number of potentially suitable cards for various subgroups of recipients, like friends with sick senses of humor (strange reindeer jokes), business friends (traditional, maybe a twist like a boat or palm tree, the LA classic), girlfriends who like to meet for cocktails (sleek martini renderings), friends who celebrate Christmas (green and red), friends who don’t (green or red, or blue), or spiritual friends (doves and/or olive branches). Family will get whatever is left.

This leads me to the next stage of anxiety for this joyous holiday task. Who do you send a card to and why? As part of my ongoing personal quest to be authentic, I feel compelled to examine my true motivations in each card. I make a list and begin this process. Basically these are my underlying rules:

-Family-Yes, obviously, especially if they live far away. Send to immediate family and a sample of aunts, uncles or cousins if extended family is large. No need to send to in-laws if you are divorced except those that are getting old and/or are in poor health.

-Close friends who live far away-Yes, at least you will connect once a year.

-Close friends who live close by-It depends. If they never send out cards to anyone, or if you see them regularly and will exchange holiday gifts, you may skip mailing them a card. But I never think it’s redundant to send love to the important people in your life.

-Co-workers-Yes, promotes good will. Depending on size of office, send to all immediate or team co-workers and managers, all levels so no one feels left out. Also include friends in Home Office and branches, especially anyone who signs your expense account.

-Business Clients-Yes, see good will above, but only clients with whom you would socialize if you didn’t do business together, unless unemployed; then include all clients whose addresses you have.

-Families from your child’s school-Be careful because there are usually a lot of them, make it a short list.

-Neighbor friends-Silly unless they are personal friends, that is you would stay friends with them if one of you moved.

-Men who are friends-No, men don’t care about cards.

-Men who are friends but whom you would like to date-Yes, good excuse to get on their radar.

-Men you dated whom you still like-Please don’t.

-Men you dated who still like you-What, a guilt card?

-Acquaintances who live far away and you never see-No, it starts to get a little hollow after a while.

-Acquaintances who live close by-Yes, but only if you want to be closer, they send cards to you, and they are also acquaintances of and exchange cards with other close friends of yours. This way you begin to form a circle of friends, which can be nice.

When I was growing up in the sixties, it seemed that every family sent out cards. Maybe it just seemed that way to us since we didn’t know too many people who weren’t in our Catholic parish. We displayed them by taping them up along the archway leading to our bay window where the tree went. As kids, we really looked at each card. As a ritual of a magical season, they carried some sense of surprise with them. People usually wrote notes in them, out-of-towners enclosed newsy letters, photos.

My parents made a careful list every year of everyone who sent them a card because let’s face it, there is a subtle social pressure to write back to people who send us cards. I know someone who buys a simple supermarket card every year. Whenever she gets a card in the mail, she stops and sends one back; she doesn’t even have to go look up their current address.

Today there are no rules about holiday cards. Many people never send them. Our culture is less formal about such things. It’s clearly a personal choice not an obligation. I send cards because it reminds me of times when my family sent out cards. It’s also a way for me to take stock of my world and acknowledge the people in it, even if I don’t always follow my own rules. After all, some people don’t fit exactly into one of my categories of friends. And I always hand write my cards and add a line or two even if it’s just a reiteration of what is already on there.

I admit I get a little crazy during the whole card giving process, but it’s not like I fret over which holiday stamp to use or anything. I also consider anything that arrives before New Year’s Eve respectable. And sometimes I luck out: You should see the card I found this year.

Nancy Murphy is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and poet who is currently on hiatus from her career as an underwriter of high risk business insurance.