Monday, December 11, 2006

My Two Haypennies

As is known to absolutely none of you, I enjoy reading Judith Martin's Miss Manners column on a regular basis. For the uninitiated, her updates can be found on the Washington Post website (in the Arts & Living section), and at MSN Lifestyle. Her column is not at all what I had initially expected. I thought there would be ample talk of shrimp forks and calling cards and other specialized pieces of cutlery and paper goods, and there is some, but, in general, I find her surprisingly witty and clever and full of good quotes (here is a small sampling). She is always educational, even when I disagree with her, which is unusual.

In a recent column, a reader of hers wrote in to express her dismay over the lack of personal details, news, and handwriting in Christmas cards that she receives these days, and what a buzzkill it is that addresses, etc., are frequently preprinted. The reader writes, "I have been repeatedly disappointed in everyone's lack of spirit and genuine good cheer." Miss Manners essentially sympathizes with her.

In case anyone had any doubts, this is one of those few columns with which I disagree.

And here I was, patting myself on the back for finishing about 60% of my Christmas cards without committing an axe murder! I managed to prevent chest and back pain while filling out the cards by continually shifting my position. I also kept stopping to wash my hands every time I coughed or blew my nose, as I was sick for the second time in three weeks, was unable to medicate, and didn't want to send germs in place of "good cheer." The cards were sandwiched in during an increasingly-rare moment of leisure between doing work and doing dishes and fortifying other people's femurs; it's not as if they were a pleasant diversion from putting up peach preserves or making a quilt. I didn't realize that simply adding to the preprinted message "Dear So-and-So," and "Best wishes for the New Year!" and signing my name was, apparently, a social slight on the order of calling the recipient's mother a whore.

If I had known that, in order to avoid rudeness and social shunning, a personal update was a requirement, I would have written an update, all right. It would have gone something like, "Arabella has finally stopped throwing up, and her bruising is considerably better than it was earlier in the pregnancy! She is so overwhelmed by her condition that she recently sobbed so much in the bathroom of her obstetrician's office that she forgot to label her "specimen," but that didn't stop her from acting sunny and getting all her Christmas cards done in a timely manner, so it's all good." Or, I could have just left it as a polite "Best wishes for the New Year."

Sure, Christmas cards are a charming tradition. Wouldn't we all love to catch up with friends and family during the season? Unfortunately, peoples' lives vary tremendously this time of year. Some of us are full of festive cheer, and that's great. Some of us are happy, yet pressed for time. Some of us are overworked. Some of us are bogged down with despair. Some of us are caring for sick relatives, or worrying about putting food on the table. Some of us are simply overwhelmed.

While overwhelmed, I am quite lucky. I have friends and family around me that understand that merriment can't, and shouldn't, be forced, and that one shouldn't have to sacrifice sleep or showering simply to bring someone else "up to date." These are friends and family that care how I'm doing all year round, not just during a command performance at Christmastime. People who know that "updates" are better, more meaningful, and more forthcoming when you go to someone else's home and actually talk with that person as you help with the laundry. Or when you make an occasional phone call or send an occasional e-mail during the other 11 months of the year just to let them know that you're thinking of them. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is so much more charming a tradition than complaining about how they have insufficiently amused you, don't you think?


Anonymous wordgirl said...

If people get a picture and a card from me...sans update...they'll be lucky.

10:09 AM  
Blogger V-Grrrl said...

My new rule of thumb is that if the recipient doesn't have a clue what's going on in my life, than 1) that's partly their fault and 2) maybe we shouldn't be exchanging Christmas cards anymore. Really, if I don't hear from you at least once a year and/or you don't respond to my e-mails or visit my blog occasionally, let's call it a day.

When the whole relationship rests on the content of the Christmas card, it's not a relationship anymore.

Exceptions: elderly relatives and those I know who are going through major life changes or difficulties get a "pass" and get a card whether I've heard from them or not.

I do like people to scrawl a note in their cards, but only if

10:47 AM  
Blogger V-Grrrl said...

Oops. Meant to delete the last part.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

I have to admit, I do usually leave a personal message in cards I send to people I really care about, but there are also cards I send that are just signed with our names. It's sort of a Christmas card ranking list I've been doing for years. But it takes forever for me to get my Christmas cards done.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Giving people the benefit of the doubt is so much more charming a tradition than complaining about how they have insufficiently amused you, don't you think?"

Hell yes; conserve that emotional energy for when it's really needed. Take care of yourself, and Merry Christmas!

2:32 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

Right on, Arabella! Last year I signed my cards with blue pen and then read an online article chastising people who signed in blue. *rolls eyes*

I also do the card "ranking system," adding more personal stuff to some. I wonder what Miss Manners would say if you simply wrote, "For more information, please visit my blog! Happy holidays!"

3:58 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

V-Grrrl's right, and I've never thought of it that way. I tend to send very few cards, because I feel obligated to fill up all the white space with words. So terribly daunting and obsessive. This year it's With Love From, M, M, J & Q.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

I don't do cards... It's nothing personal. I don't expect cards either. It's one of those traditions I started off participating in wholeheartedly and then I realized, "THIS SUCKS." I think it was the multiple papercuts on my tongue.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't do cards, either.


10:28 PM  

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