November 27th, 2012
10:14 PM ET

Letters to the President #1408: 'Christmas cards'

Reporter's Note: President Obama has people to help him with his Christmas cards, and perhaps even to read my daily letters to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

My wife and I were discussing Christmas the other morning and wondering why it seems to unfulfilling sometimes. I don't mean in terms of gifts, but rather in a broader, spiritual sense. Years ago it always brought a wonderful sense of joy, expectancy, and goodwill. Now, as often as not, there is an exhausting feeling of duty, as if it is merely yet another chore to be checked off the long list, and all the true meaning, religious and otherwise, has been pushed aside.

"Personally," I told her, "I blame Christmas cards."
She gave me that slightly bemused, tired look that often greets my theories.
"What do you mean?" she said.
"We all got too carried away with them, and now we're paying the price."

I was and am quite serious about this. When I was a child, my parents and everyone we knew sent out oh say, a dozen, maybe two dozen cards to friends to mark the season. They came by the box from a store like Woolworth's or Sears. They did not feature photos of the whole family on summer vacation in Cancun, or adorable pictures of the sender's pet pugs, Trident and Nacho. They might contain a few handwritten words of greeting or an update on the birth of a child, but most were just signed, as if to say "The good folks at Hallmark have covered the bases. Here is my endorsement. Merry Christmas." And that was enough. The posting of cards could be accomplished in an evening, and everyone was happy.

Then, like everything else, we started turning it into a competition. The list of recipients for too many people became as long as the Manhattan phone book. People started composing epic poems of their familial adventures to be included like a copy of the Iliad. They started ordering personalized cards, hiring photographers to create faux winter scenes to pose in amid the sweltering heat of August, and the whole thing became a mess. Now, who even wants to try?

"You know what I really like at Christmas?" I asked my wife. "Being in the kitchen...baking cakes and pies, brewing up stews and steaming shrimp, boiling pasta and grating cheese."

"Well, have at it," she said, sipping her coffee. "But first, you know, we're doing the Christmas cards this weekend."

Let the season of joy begin.

Hope all is well. Call when you can.


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