Mama Said

A Unified Theory of
Holiday Greeting Cards

Among the cartons and storage tubs of Christmas decorations that come down from our attic each holiday season, one of the first to be opened is the card box. In it I keep the garland I swag across the family room wall with its little red and green clothespins, ready to display greetings from friends, family and acquaintances as they arrive in the mail. It also houses colored markers, rubber stamps and the sealed package of cards I always forget I purchased at post-holiday clearance price last year, when I’ve already ordered this year’s at full price. And it serves as the time capsule where I keep the cards and photos from year to year that I deem too precious to go in the recycle bin when it’s time to put it all away again. Oh, and it’s where I keep the running list of who sends us cards, because that’s who gets them from us. It wasn’t always that way, but a few years ago, I shifted to a quid pro quo mindset, at least where all but close relatives are concerned. Siblings, aunts, uncles and favorite cousins get cards just because. Everyone else has to earn their holiday themed postage stamp. It sounds mercenary, but if cards aren’t your thing, I figure you won’t miss ours. 

The evolution of the Pittman family holiday cards!

The evolution of the Pittman family holiday cards!

There are usually a couple dozen names or so on the incoming list. I appreciate every single one. There’s something delightfully archaic about getting a card in the mail. Even the ones that aren’t personalized in the slightest — someone at least cared enough to lick the envelope. That counts.

Having sent and received holiday greeting cards for over 20 years, I see no reason not to declare myself an expert and make sweeping generalizations about what people’s greeting cards say about them. Which of these applies to you?

The Bare Minimalist: You uploaded your family photo to a card template and chose a message generic enough to cover everyone on your list: “SEASONS GREETINGS TO YOU FROM US” You had a coupon code for same-day pick up. You printed your labels from your computer at work and used the drive-up drop box at the post office. Your seasonal social obligation is fulfilled and no human interaction was involved. You are a robot. 

The Imposters: You compose your greetings in your pet’s name. Someday your pet will find out what you’ve been up to and sue you for identity theft. 

The Statement Makers: The true meaning of the season is an opportunity to preach what it means to you — with aggressively typeset Bible quotes or cards that are supposed to be planted in the ground. Nobody wants you at their New Year’s Eve party.

Hashtag Blessed: You are living your best life and you have the professionally styled portrait session to prove it! Everything is amazing! What a year! So much to be grateful for! Your friends have established a secret tip line for any evidence of your personal failings. 1-800-RU4-REAL

The Traditionalist: You thoughtfully chose a card with the recipient in mind and composed a handwritten note with fond remembrances of holidays past and warm wishes for the year to come. You are either my mom or aunt.

As for me, I’ve fit into most of these categories at one season of our family life or another (except pet ventriloquism, but I am not above putting hats on cats and sweaters on dogs for a photo opportunity, and we all know it’s a short, steep slide from there). I don’t mind if our cards induce a cringe or an eyeroll, as long as they kindle some warm fuzzies along the way, and make somebody’s midwinter a little less bleak.


Kyran Pittman is mom to three sons, sweetheart to their dad, and author of numerous stories about life with all four. Her memoir, “Planting Dandelions,” was published by Riverhead in 2011.