I'm a purist when it comes to sending out Christmas cards. Instead of cutting back, my list grows like Pinocchio's nose.
The post office loves people like me. I keep them in business with just the postage alone, never mind the photo shop where my cards are made and the stationery department where the folders are purchased.
Add it all up and it's a tidy sum, but it's my personalized Christmas gift to 247 receivers this year. Not all of them return the favor.
Judging from my experiences over the past 45 years since my fetish with cards began, the worst Christmas crisis occurs when a family mixes up the lists of those who sent Christmas cards last year and those who didn't.
What makes the occasion rather special is the photograph I've taken and the personal message that's inscribed.
This year's motif shows a monastery scene taken two years ago during a return trip to Armenia. I was struck by the beauty of snow-covered mountains in May which lent a rather awe-inspiring accent to the scene at St. Datev's Church.
Sorry I didn't get to include the precise location of my subject. After two weeks of preparation in mid-November, my hand became shaped like a claw from so much writing, and my tongue stuck to my lips from licking so many envelopes.
Maybe I'm overdoing it just a bit. Sure, I get less than 50 percent returns, but it's always nice to send out something personal, especially when friends and relatives get to expect it.
The typical family sends out about 50 cards. Thirty-five go out before Christmas and another 15 just after to those you've forgotten. I never would have expected a card from a funeral director after pre-planning our burial because we didn't want to burden the children.
Nor did I expect to receive a card from a relative who was lost in transition. Heard the guy needed money and maybe this was his way of rekindling a relationship.
Earlier this fall, as we do at least every other year, we decided to cut down our Christmas expenditures. In November, the subject of Christmas cards came up.
"I thought we had decided to eliminate them and save money," my wife inquired.
"OK with me," I replied. "That means, of course, we lose touch with a lot of old friends.''
"Who, for instance?"
"Well, Joe and Annie. Christmas cards are about our only contact with them since they moved out west.''
"I wouldn't think of not sending Joe and Annie a card," she said indignantly. "We'll send cards to all our good friends who live a distance away and not the courtyard neighbors we see every day."
"You mean you wouldn't send Helen and Sam a card a greeting because they live a block away?"
"Darling, of course we would. They're our best friends," she reminded me. "Let's cut out our children's friends. I don't see why we should keep them."
Out came two address books we use every year. One is so old, the cover is loose. We turned pages delicately and discovered that last year, we sent out only 198 cards, including to the mayor and all our local state legislators. You never know when you might need them.
"Here's a pair we can toss out," she volunteered. "Mr. and Mrs. Joel de Sanchez. I never even heard of them."
My face grew pale. I would rather have excluded one of her cousins.
"Sometimes I think you don't listen when I tell you things. De Sanchez is a guy I once wrote a story about."
"You've written 20,000 stories about 20,000 people," she retaliated. "Does that mean we have to send out 20,000 cards? We don't know 198 people that intimately. You must buy a mailing list or something. Why does business have to take over Christmas like everything else?"
She still didn't understand how in the newspaper business you get to know people in a very personal way. Used to be each employee in the newsroom got a card.
When we reached the end of one list, 14 names were gone. But another list remained. Two hours later, we were going in the opposite direction. We wound up with 50 more names than last year.
"We started by agreeing not to send any cards," my wife wailed. "Now we end up mailing more than we ever did before. Is this insanity or what?"
"I know. I know," said this wise man. "But after all, it's Christmas."
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Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from the Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.