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Christmas card 2002. Caption read, “Look what Santa left under our tree.”

It started the day after Thanksgiving this year, the annual marketing campaign going on in homes across the country that gives new meaning to the term Black Friday.

Inside my mailbox on that day, along with 20 pounds of Pottery Barn catalogs and Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, sat the first holiday card of the season.

Ho ho ho.

I think the special delivery vexed me for two reasons. First, it was a reminder that I needed to get my act together to accomplish a great many things in the ensuing weeks (weeks!) before Christmas, which included dealing with all the Christmas tchotchkes crammed into about a dozen boxes in my basement and the stupid Elf on a Shelf.

Secondly, that card signaled that I needed to plan how I would be marketing my own family this holiday season because that, let’s be honest, is what it’s all about.

Branding.

I want you, along with my college roommate and cousin in Connecticut, to see just how attractive, smart, accomplished and well-traveled we are, via a 5 X 7 card.

It’s like the paper-version of Facebook.

But don’t get me wrong: I drank the Christmas card Kool-Aid years ago and have spent a lot of time, money and patience creating the annual aren’t-we-something campaign. I am the ultimate Mad Mom.

Parents nowadays have no idea what it was like producing a card back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and before digital cameras were de rigeur. When I, and every mom within a 10-mile radius, had to bring my roll of film (actual film) to the CVS to be developed and wait a few days in hopes that at least one of the 24 shots would be a winner. I prayed for that one frame where all eyes would be open, looking straight at the camera and not rolled up in small heads in disgust.

Then I had to get 100 copies made of that one tolerable photo and then stuff said photos into cards, that needed to be signed and maybe a bow needed to be tied, and then stuffed into envelopes, licked and addressed, stamped and mailed.

I’m not saying you young moms have it easy, but seriously, you have it so freaking easy.

Nowadays, you just scroll through a photo gallery and upload a variety of images to an adorable card that’s personalized and ready to be mailed when the shipment arrives on your doorstep. It’s fucking magic.

I thought I could make a clean break from sending cards out when my husband moved out in December 2008. It was such a terrible time and I figured I’d have to be some kind of marketing genius to generate a card that said, “Look how happy we are.”

So I just kind of knocked it off my mental check-list of holiday tasks for that year until one of the kids asked about it.

“I’m thinking we’re not gonna send one this year,” I told my oldest daughter.

“Wait, what? You’re not doing a card?” she asked. “It’s our tradition.”

The other kids sitting in the kitchen nodded in agreement and I realized that the stupid card had become about more than how others see our family. It had become about how we see ourselves, too.

And sending out a card that year signaled to the kids that life would still go on, even after their dad moved out. There would still be cards, wrapping paper and Christmas for them.

Just like everyone else.

I decided to bang my cards out earlier than usual this year and take advantage of all the Cyber Monday sales this week. I checked a couple of sites for the best deals and instructed the older kids to send me photos of themselves to use since we didn’t have any great shots of all of us together this year.

I struggled, as I have these last few years, with how to personalize the card since the kids and I have different last names. Hyphenating the two seemed weird and just using the kids’ name, the one I had used for 20 years, didn’t seem right either.

So I finally settled on sending love to all our friends and family this Christmas from “4 Walsacks and a Byrnes.” Awkward, perhaps, but it just felt more right than the other options. I included all of our names and then finished it off with “& The Cat,” because she might look and act like a raccoon, but that critter is a strange part of our family now, too.

I think the end-result, while far from perfect, says, “We’re doing okay.”

I walked across the street to steal a glass of wine from my girlfriend and celebrate knocking such a big item off my holiday to-do list, and bragged to her about my accomplishment.

“Oh, do you want to see mine?” she asked, turning around to pull a festive card covered with great pictures from her family’s trip last summer to the Grand Canyon out of a little brown box.

“You already fucking HAVE your cards?” I said, and we both started to laugh. “I am totally writing about this.”

And now I have.

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13 thoughts on “Holiday Cards 101: How to Market Your Family

  1. Too funny. Of course, there’s a big difference between cards in the little brown box and cards in the mail. Let’s not rush things.

  2. I don’t know how you do it. I was just thinking about the holiday card conundrum and feeling bah-humbug about the whole thing when I read your posting. Thanks for taking the time to write about what makes the rest of us mumble under our breaths.

    • Hey Melinda … I think when I saw how important the cards were to the kids, I realized that I needed to focus on just getting the job done and not how perfect or whatever everyone looked. It’s just one less thing they need to discuss in therapy some day 🙂

  3. I’m still trying to figure out how NJ only came in at #3 for the states with people who curse the most. With Amy on our team I thought we were a sure bet for #1

  4. When I recently moved, I found more than one box of Christmas cards that were faithfully taken and printed but never made it into the mail. Wonder what will happen this year?

  5. This is so close to home! Every year since I had my two children (who joined my two stepchildren 17 years ago), I have felt the need to display how adjusted and normal our ‘blended’ family was despite the initial naysayers. As my step kids entered adolescence, this ritual became increasingly difficult. I discovered Shutterfly.com and the beauty of family collage cards. One year, I could not get all four kids in one room, let alone their approval on individual photos of themselves for use on the card. I finally gave up and declared a strike on the whole card thing. Every time I opened a card that year, I felt guilt like a punch in the face!

    • Nora … right there with you! I wanted to just use a picture of our cat this year but the kids thought that was way too weird. Would have made my life a lot easier. As it is, half of my kids hate the picture I chose of them. Sometimes I wish we could all just agree that all our kids are fabulous and we don’t need to send pictures of them out every December. Just a moratorium on Christmas cards. Would be the best gift of all 🙂

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