The Motherlode: The ‘oh what fun’ of the holiday card

December 12, 2018 GMT

It’s official: The family holiday card has taken over my life.

If you had told me this when I was 25, I would have run for the hills screaming. An annual holiday card? Are you serious? Yet here we are again, and I’m going insane.

It all started when Ian and I moved in together. Suddenly, our mailbox was full of Christmas and Hanukkah cards featuring cutesy captions and adorable children and pets all clad in plaid. My friends didn’t send cards; they were too busy trying to bring about the collapse of capitalism.

But Ian ran with a different crowd, and man did they have that family holiday card thing down.

“Are you kidding me, babe? These are ridiculous!” I scoffed as I opened card after card featuring chubby toddlers all dressed up in elfish attire, under “OH WHAT FUN” printed along the top. We had already received two “OH WHAT FUN” cards — these people even used the same stationery templates! Oh what fun!

“I know they are kind of corny,” Ian said. “But it’s kind of neat to see how everyone is growing up over time.”


Weeks later, we attended a Christmas party downtown and there it was. Atop a stack of books sat the perfect family holiday card.

In a beautifully laid-out accordion-style card, it had simple but gorgeous photographs of a family in action over the past year. The pictures showed a baby playing with a cowboy boot, parents laughing while doing dishes, a dog and a toddler sharing a bathtub. I must have looked at that card for quite some time because the hostess came over and said, “I know.”

The card was so captivating — it told a story. I didn’t even know this family — but now I wanted to.

And just like that I was hooked.

So here we are on year nine of the annual Haft 5x7 Tiny Prints “Superlative Spectrum” trifold holiday card process. Sounds simple? It’s hell. Let me break it down for you:

First there is the creation of the card itself — finding pictures that best express your family’s joys, travels and growth over the past year — or simply ones where everyone’s eyes are open.

I don’t even know where my photos are anymore except that it involves a cloud somewhere. So finding the right picture is a near impossibility unless you are one of those people who go to a studio every year for the perfect family shot. Let us not speak of those people …

Next is selecting the greeting message, preferably one that matches the vibe of your selected family photos.

“How about ‘LEAVE ME ALONE,’” my husband suggested after looking through our first batch of potential family photos.

Then there is the address list. Each year, I review my list, adding new friends and work colleagues along with the kids’ new classmates, teachers and anyone else I can think of. Then I delete people who have moved, died or been mean to me. This requires days of labor and emotional upheaval.

Why do all of this?

“We haven’t done a family holiday card in three years. It’s just too much work,” a carpool mom confessed last week when she saw the Everest-like piles of envelopes in my kitchen. “But you know what sucks? Once you stop sending them out, people stop sending them to you.”

“Wait, what?” I said, aghast. There was a holiday card quid pro quo?

“They cut you off their list if they don’t get a card from you after two years. It’s like a thing,” she explained.

No matter the level of chaos, the Haft family would not plummet to these depths, I promised myself gravely. I would make sure of it even if our card ended up looking like the FBI’s most wanted list. Which actually it did two years ago, when Ian had kidney stones and looked worse for wear.

“What would you say our return rate is?” Ian asked, as he taped yet another incoming holiday card in the mudroom. “For example, if we send out 400 cards, can we figure we’ll get 300 cards back in return?”

“Less. That’s why we send out XXX” I told him. (I’m not going to tell you how many we send out because I’m too embarrassed.)

The truth is somewhere along the line it became all about volume. Like capitalism.

“I don’t care if we don’t recognize them or even know them,” I said. “If they sent us a card, we tape it up.”

We have a tradition of wallpapering our mudroom with Christmas cards, which we keep up all year long. The idea is to cover the entire mudroom, which makes it look like we have lots of friends. It’s like fake library books, but worse.

“Doesn’t that kind of miss the point?” my husband pointed out, unhelpfully.

And as our mudroom transforms into a giant collage of good cheer, I plod on. If I have to stamp one more card with the self-inking address stamp that has no more ink, I will cry . But I keep reminding myself, tis the season to be jolly, after all. And if you can’t, for whatever reason, tis the season to at least fake it.

Oh what fun.

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.