Why I stopped sending Christmas cards

Hands removing a Christmas card from an orange envelope amid a background of holiday presents and winter evergreens and ribbon
For some families, sending holiday cards is a sacred tradition. For others, it's an unnecessary hassle. (Getty Images)

My kids get so excited every time they check the mail from Thanksgiving until Christmas. They have come to blows over opening the mailbox first, actually. While they are keeping an eye out for one certain envelope from Great-Grandma containing cold hard cash, they also love getting holiday cards from friends and family. They squint as they look closely at the photo collages and exclaim about how some family members have gotten taller, older, grayer (we are still working on verbal filters in this house). We also get one card every year addressed to our home's previous owners, who used to come pick it up but seem to no longer care after a decade of erroneous addresses. Despite not knowing the family on this particular yearly Christmas card, my kids giggle as we see how much the strangers have grown in the past year. We hang the cards up on ribbon around a door jamb, and they fight me when I go to throw them away each January. They’re special, they tell me.

They’re right. Loved ones across the country spend time and money to send those envelopes. Many years ago, we even signed up for a card exchange with other transracial adoptive families so that all of our kids could see a smattering of cards with families that look like ours. We haven’t even met most of those kids, but their cards matter to my children.

Despite all of the joy these cards bring us, we don't send our own. We used to. I stressed so much over sending those cards and updating addresses. I chose photos from ones I had already shared online, which at times felt a bit pointless. Nearly everyone who matters to us is inundated with photos of my kids daily on social media.

I tried to make the task simpler. First, I dwindled our big card list down to our inner circle. I still only managed to send those cards in mid-January, though. In 2020, my holiday card was featured in Vogue, but I never actually got around to printing and mailing it. It lives online only. I posted the link to my social media and considered the task handled. That was it for me — I finally gave up on cards.

How can I love receiving cards but hate mailing them? The thing I’ve come to accept is this: Not every holiday tradition is right for every family. We spent years (and tears) battling the cold and allergies before giving up and ordering an artificial Christmas tree, but I love seeing friends post photos from the tree farm. We love to wander to Point State Park in our hometown of Pittsburgh to stand under the massive tree where our three rivers converge, while other friends tell us the parking, the traffic and the wind off the rivers in December means they forgo that tradition. We never miss our local drive-through lights display, though a co-worker tells me they avoid at all costs having hyper kids in their car for extended periods of time. Some friends tell me they love creating and sending their yearly cards. The task brings them joy, and I am happy for them. They’ve found traditions that work for their families.

Sometimes I do have pangs of guilt over not sending cards, particularly because my kids enjoy them so much. I think often about how my children will reflect back on their childhood and what emotions they will have as they wade through boxes of mementos after my demise. When they sort through kindergarten artwork and flash drives containing both their baby pictures and screenshots of my favorite memes from the year they were born, will they notice the very few yearly cards we sent out? Will it feel like a hole, a loss?

If I take a moment to really envision that future scene, I think they will not notice their absence. When I reflect on my own childhood I remember receiving cards but have no clue if my parents sent them. I remember years with a fake tree and years with a live tree, years we saw A Christmas Carol onstage and years we just watched the Muppet version. I never even saw a stage performance of The Nutcracker until I was an adult, but I don’t find my own childhood lacking because of that.

While I will never discount the staying power of hard or traumatic childhood experiences, I think when it comes to the small things — like which traditions we choose and which we eschew — our kids will give us grace. They will remember opening and hanging the cards. They will surely always recall the strangers we watched grow up on a 5 x 7 in. piece of card stock for decades. They'll think of the things we did choose to make time for, like Happy Meal dinners while we drive through light displays, or our annual Christmas Eve-Eve party (the 23rd just works so much better for Santa and his behind-schedule elves). They’ll remember that we ordered a cheesy, sparkly grocery store birthday cake for Jesus every year because my oldest decided that was a thing when he was just a toddler. They likely will not remember — nor care — if we sent cards or not.