I can hear some people now: “O. M. G. Now she’s going to rip on Christmas cards! What’s wrong with a freaking bloody Christmas card?? Is nothing sacred anymore??”
The second question is easier to answer: no. Nothing is sacred anymore *picture me with one of those wry, self-conscious half-smiles–the kind where you just made a rare attempt at a joke and you’re not sure if other people think it’s funny or not, but you do, and you want to make sure your face could go either way fairly quickly, based on the response you get*.
I’m not sure when it started (probably around the founding of Hallmark?), but all my life, I’ve been baffled by the seemingly pointless tradition of exchanging Christmas cards. “Pointless” is probably not the best word choice; it sounds far meaner than I intend it to be. And I certainly don’t intend to be mean.
Because I do enjoy Christmas cards. I’m not an emotionless cyborg that scoffs and thoughtlessly says “meh”, immediately before tossing them into the recycling bin. I mean, (I think) I do understand the point of Christmas cards. They exist to passively wish another person a Merry Christmas, right?
There’s nothing wrong with that. I promise.
But I want to make sure I have this right: that’s all they are, right? There’s no other hidden meaning or unspoken message that everyone else knows about but somehow I’ve missed for my 39 years, right? (These are actually genuine questions; I’ve made some serious faux pas in my life, with disastrous consequences.)
(What’s the plural of “faux pas”, anyway? Because I’ve made more than one. In fact, I’ve lost count. Does “faux pas” even HAVE a plural form?)
Where were we? (Note to self: when all else fails, refer back to the blog post title.)
Oh yes! Christmas cards.
I face separate sets of “issues” as both the sender and the recipient. Since I definitely end up receiving more Christmas cards than I send (to my family–sorry about that!) I’ll address my struggles with receiving them first.
Receiving Christmas Cards:
They’re a nice gesture. In fact, they’re a really nice gesture. To receive one means that someone thought of you, added you to their personal list of people to wish well on what is for many people a sacred holiday, and they went to the trouble/effort to buy cards, sign each one (perhaps with an added personal message, which is even kinder), address it to you, put a stamp on it, and send it.
I do indeed enjoy receiving them. They do brighten up my moment, and I appreciate that very much. I’m definitely grateful that someone took the time to make such a gesture.
And then….then what? The Christmas-y well-wishing message the card carries has been conveyed, sent and received successfully. And now I feel conflicted, because now, I’m faced with a dilemma. My Aspie-brain does not like having to make decisions, especially those involving etiquette. My brain didn’t receive a “normal etiquette manual”. (When I cross over to the other side, I’m probably going to have to have a sit-down with my manufacturer. I’ve got some questions for s/he/them.)
My dilemma, in a nutshell, is this:
Do I save the card? Where should I put it? I could keep them in a neat little pile on my desk at home. But then, that wouldn’t do the cards any justice, because I’d probably not look at them after that. I can display it in my office. I can display it on the top of our living room’s entertainment center that serves as a mantle or hearth because we don’t have a fireplace in our apartment. But I’ve got a big family, so that might get filled up and cluttered fairly quickly. And even if I fan the cards out, I probably won’t be able to see all of them.
So maybe I keep some cards and recycle some of the others? If I keep one person’s card, am I being unfair or immoral if I save cards from some people but not cards from others? Wouldn’t that be like telling someone that they’re not as important as someone else because I recycled their card but kept the other person’s?
Maybe I could nod to myself, smile, mentally thank them earnestly, and then….Recycle The Card? But then that would essentially negate all of their efforts. It’d be like slapping them in the face, even though they’re not there to see me recycle it, right? Is getting rid of it right away somehow unethical? Is there anything wrong with that? Do the people who send the cards expect me to hang onto them for at least a little while, or do they assume I’ll recycle it right away?
I’ve got so much clutter already, and most of it involves Stuff that I can’t get rid of (most of the time due to pragmatic reasons–I actually use it–but occasionally, it’s due to sentimental reasons). My brain is not too keen on the idea of adding more clutter, more new Things to the milieu. But the guilt…
Oh yes, the guilt. Of recycling the card, that is. In recent years, I’ve actually opened each card, smiled gratefully while it warmed my heart, and then recycled it right away. It was like ripping off a Band-aid; better to do it fast, right away, and without thinking too much about it, or I might chicken out, talk myself out of it, and end up saving the card forever.
Hmmm…save the card and clutter my space that much more, or recycle the card and live with the guilt?
Ooooh, boy. OK, I’ll think through what I know. Whenever my mind is swarming like this, I make a list. (Lists rule!)
Some cards are exceptionally nice; maybe they’re extraordinarily beautiful, or perhaps the sender wrote an extra-special personal note in them. OK–save those for sure.
Other cards may carry extra unspoken/unwritten meaning, because they’re from elderly relatives who might not be with us much longer, and there’s always the grim chance that this could be the last Christmas card they ever send. Save those for sure, too. Those will probably be saved forever, in a special “Memorabilia” file in my filing cabinet. (Hooray for filing cabinets!)
Some cards are from distant relatives, or relatives with whom I don’t share much in common, and I might even be able to assume that those cards were probably sent primarily out of a sense of obligation on their part. OK–those can be recycled (at some point; more on that later).
Other cards are a bit more dicey. They could go into a “maybe” or “undecided” pile. Kind of a Christmas Card Limbo.
OK–now, at least we have a list. And nice, neat piles! Some semblance of order. Three cheers for organization! And decision-making! Go me!
The trouble now is, those piles are on my floor. It doesn’t matter which floor they’re on; they can’t stay there. Put the saved cards on the bookshelves at work or the entertainment center mantle at home. That was easy. The recycle-for-sure cards are pretty self-explanatory. But that Limbo Pile… anything in “limbo” likes to nag. In fact, I might have run out of cognitive energy by this point.
Maybe I can resurrect the idea of a pile on my desk, for the Limbo Pile. I wouldn’t need to look at them, after all. They’re not exceptionally special, but I wasn’t ready to let go of them just yet.
Speaking of… If we didn’t decide to recycle the card right away, then how long are we supposed to keep cards before recycling them? (This is another honest, genuine question. In fact, all of the questions in this post are.) When recycling cards, is it “normal” to feel a pang of guilt when putting the card into the bin? (How do neurotypical people approach this issue? How do the rest of us (other fellow Aspie/autistic people) approach it?)
Sending Christmas Cards:
Now there’s a can of worms, and it’s labeled very simply, with two innocent-looking words that pack a punch when realized: Executive Function.
Executive Function is this neat little broad sampler platter of skills that includes planning, critical-thinking, decision-making, higher reasoning, sequencing activities, carrying out complex tasks…. you see where I’m going with this. My brain’s operating system is definitely missing this app suite. As in, not happening. I can think critically and reason highly, but that’s the extent of my skillz.
What does this have to do with sending Christmas cards? Oh, just about everything. “Normal” people don’t (seem to) have to put nearly as much energy into the yearly Christmas Card Project as I do (I’m sure this probably holds true for many other people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, but since I’m dabbling in some semi-un-PC humor and vibe, I’ll restrict my speech to speaking for myself only). Therefore, writing Christmas cards every year doesn’t look to be as big a deal for other people. In fact, some of them seem to enjoy it.
But sending a Christmas card is tougher for me. Indeed, it involves the same trips to the store to buy them, the same hand-muscles to write them, the same amount of time, the same mileage traveled to the post office, etc. It’s not a numbers game; it’s games called “Outside of My Routine” and often (especially at this time of year) “Ran Out of Spoons Too Early in the Day”.
Going to the store to buy cards? Ha–I hardly ever make those trips to stores. Even on the rare occasion that I accompany my partner into a grocery store, it often doesn’t dawn on me to buy cards–even if that store has them (which many don’t, these days; and if the grocery store doesn’t have them, well hell–where does one get Christmas cards? Or any kind of cards? Shite!)
On the off-chance that I’m lucky enough to stumble across Christmas cards….how many will I need? How many come in a box? If I can answer those two questions, I’m golden; I’m decent at math. But…being able to answer those two questions is the key ingredient to that step. A step that is also way outside my routine.
If the gods are smiling on me (wait–is it blasphemous to say “gods” (plural) when talking about Christmas (a Christian, one-god holiday)?), then I might’ve been able to pick up a couple boxes of cards–with any luck, I didn’t forget a whole section of my address book and with more luck, I’ll actually be able to locate said address book when it comes time to address these things–then I’ll get them home and…
…and they might sit in their plastic shopping bag, in their boxes, on my couch for a couple weeks. Because taking them out of their bag and boxes is not in my routine, either. I’ll walk by, see them sitting on the couch, and think “oh yeah….gotta do Christmas cards one of these days”. You’d be surprised at how fast a bunch of “one of these days”s goes! Before I know it, several weeks have flown by. With any luck (have I run out of luck yet, or is there still some left?), I’ll have had the presence of mind when buying the cards to choose a design that is nondescript and versatile enough to maybe convert them to “New Years cards” instead.
Or, if I actually remember to unearth them from their resting place and start writing, then I’m faced with a blank space. Whoa…what do I say? “Merry Christmas”, while short and sweet (not to mention easy), is too generic, too common, and too cheap. I want to say more than that. I’ve already gone through all of this outside-my-routine effort; why “waste” it with a simple “Merry Christmas”, followed by my name? I mean, how boring is that?
As I’m writing out the cards (assuming that all the stars aligned just right and I’ve made it this far, which, like, never happens), then I often get bored writing the same message time after time, so I like to jazz it up a little with some variety, using different messages for different cards. To personalize it a little, you know? But that’s when I start making mistakes, and I’m left with the tacky, unsightly result of having misspelled words or misjudged spacing. Ugh.
Theoretically, if I were to get all the cards written (uncharted territory here), then I realize I need to follow through with my promise to find that mythical address book that I only come across when I’m frantically looking for something else. Should I miraculously be able to find it, I’m probably going to have to skip over half the addresses because they’re probably 15 years out of date. Oh, and then there’s the question of whether or not we have stamps. My partner manages to magically produce whatever it is I ask him for; he always has on hand whatever it is I need, but it’s always invisible to me. Oh, and do we have enough stamps to mail this unusual/uncommon bolus of cards?
If so, then–shit, where’s the closest Post Office location? They closed down the one a mere five miles from our house, and now we have to go chasing all over hell and creation to find our next-nearest one. Except that the evening rush hour is well underway and traffic is at a standstill and people are driving extremely erratically these days. Driving is pure terror and sheer frustration, all mixed together, most of the time. OK, scratch that off the list for today. The cards are (well, would theoretically be) all done–written, addressed, stamped (oh wait–shit–did that envelope glue have gluten in it?? I hear most of them do. Oh man, I’m screwed!!), and (gulp) sealed, and now they are (would be) stacked in a nice, neat pile, ready to go.
Now I just have to remember to put them in my bag. And I have to remember to stop at that faraway Post Office over yonder….
…just as soon as I get that willpower-energy back.
People probably don’t realize that if I were to successfully complete this exercise in Executive Function (on time, no less!), what an effort it took, how far outside of my routine I ventured, the anxiety that caused, the decision-making involved, and the hurdles I scaled just to be able to do this.
And when they receive my spoon-sucking card, I’m guessing they probably won’t agonize over its fate.
It’ll most likely end up in the recycling, with probably at least a bit less thought/guilt than I had put into/felt when recycling theirs!
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why I say a yin-yang-style “that’s awesome!! But bah-humbug” whenever anyone mentions Christmas cards. 🙂 ❤