t’s the most wonderful time of the year — for our mailbox.
For a few marvelous weeks in December, our incoming mail includes handwritten notes, family letters, cards with glittery winter scenes and carefully-crafted photos in evergreen groves (say that 10 times fast).
Being no stranger to the desire for the “perfect” family Christmas card, I get it. I just gave up this year. And unsurprisingly, perhaps, it was better.
I’ve always loved “real” mail: the stationery, colorful envelopes, seals and unique cards. I remember receiving a gift of my own address labels when I was a kid — colorful pastel ones with my name in tiny print. I expected them to elevate me to a new level of cool, given I could send letters like a grown-up, but still kinda waiting for that to happen.
I looked for any and every excuse to send something through the mail. Our fourth grade class adopted pen pals from Maine, and I would craft missives to a random kid near Portland just for the thrill of sticking on a stamp with a bird.
Maybe I’m actually obsessed with stickers? . . . That’s another column.
Growing up, the “outgoing mail” spot was a corner of the fireplace in the front living room. My mom would place bills or thank-you cards there and, before long, they would disappear. It was much later that I realized the “magic” was actually my father, who walked everything down before the daily mail arrived.
My sister and I loved accompanying him to check our mailbox (and his post office box), even though there was rarely anything in the stack for us. I do remember a few subscriptions to “Highlights” and “Ranger Rick,” plus the time I entered a kids’ club for SweeTarts, which sent me back an actual membership card. (The club disbanded a short time later. My 10-year-old self was devastated.)
As the ’90s gave way to the digital explosion, of course, “snail mail” began to fall out of favor. But I still love to send and receive actual cards. My grandmother and I exchange notes (though I need to be better about this — sorry, Gram!), and my mom recently sent me a magazine clipping with her personalized stationery because she knew it would make me smile.
Because the holidays are still a publicly accepted time to send and receive mail, it’s basically the Super Bowl for stationery enthusiasts. I was so excited to send “Merry and Married” cards in 2013, and to add “Baby Johnson — arriving in 2015!” to the following year’s design.
I start planning our card in October. Most of my favorite photo sites debut their holiday designs around then, so I start saving my top picks for later. Getting the actual Johnson photo — with all eyes open, smiles on at least two faces, and no double chins for me — is its own project, but I was pretty pleased with an unplanned shot my mom snapped of us this fall.
I tend to get so bent out of shape when the kids don’t follow my plans that I’ve really tried to stop making them. Every time I wedge them into adorable clothing, it’s all they can do not to roll around in the dirt or drip chocolate down their fronts. Though my children are pressed to my body about 98 percent of the time, they suddenly want nothing to do with me when we want them to sit for a picture.
Probably preaching to the choir here, but it helps to get it out.
Frustrations aside, we got a cute picture of the four of us. I ordered my cards and stamps and washi tape, and I’ve been prepping the stack in stages. I like to stuff the envelopes and stamp one night, then seal and address them the next. This is best accomplished with a Hallmark Christmas movie playing softly in the background, but I’ll settle for no one screaming.
I’ve received a few cards from faraway friends and a letter from a local one. As much as I love sending notes, coming home to a handwritten envelope is still my favorite part. It’s a comfort.
As Hadley and Ollie are getting older, they’ve become interested in accompanying Spencer and me to our mailbox across the street. Oliver hasn’t started asking if anything in there is for him, but I have a hunch he and his sister will have interesting mail soon.
Santa still prefers to communicate via Polar Dispatch. No wifi at the workshop — and anyway, the man certainly knows the value of tradition.