From the Dec. 5, 1980 edition of the Vineyard Gazette by Louise Aldrich Bugbee:

There must be a way to manage Christmas cards. I wish I could find out what it is.

I know some people have their secretaries address envelopes for everyone on the Christmas card list and stick printed cards in them and mail the whole batch out, without ever seeing any part of it. That’s neat and efficient. But I don’t have a secretary.

Others compose a Christmas letter and have hundreds of copies made, well in advance of the season, and that leaves them with nothing to do except address envelopes. That works well for some people, but I couldn’t get away with it. The letter is a report of the activities of the sender and spouse and children and grandchildren and family pets for the whole year. I can’t remember what I did yesterday, let alone for a whole year and it would take a better writer than I am to report on what I did all year. And even if I could remember, It’s probably not worth a stamp or anyone’s reading time.

I have a few friends who give up the month of December and spend it doing their Christmas duty. They not only select the right card for each person but write a personal message on each one. That takes time and thought, and that’s the proper spirit of Christmas. When I get a card from such a person I get sentimental and emotional and puddle up. And when anyone asks, “What’s wrong?” I say, “I’m happy. My dear friend (whoever it happens to be) sent me a Christmas card.” This leaves the questioner shaking his or her head and probably thinking, “another old gal gone over the hill.”

Some year I may have the month of December to devote to this pleasant practice, but this year I’m scheduled to work.

I’ve tried several methods myself and none of them worked to my satisfaction. The easiest for me was to ignore the whole thing. Who really wants a card from me anyhow? This was fine until cards from friends at a distance started coming in. That these friends apparently thought more of me than I did of them (they spent time and thought of sending me a card, hadn’t they?) was bad enough. But when I started thinking that not sending cards made me an inferior person, I started looking through the yellow pages for a cheap psychiatrist. Didn’t find one and eventually recovered, I think.

One year I bought a stack of cards, signed my name on all of them, stamped the envelopes. Then, when a card came in, I copied the address on one of my cards and sent it off. That was easy. If only I hadn’t thought Christmas exchange. It is bad enough to give gifts to those we know are going to give us a gift. Using cards the same way, and even worse, waiting until a card arrived before “paying” for it with another card was even worse. I dropped that system after the first year.

The worst system I tried started out with a noble intention. I addressed and stamped the cards and wrote a little note to go with each one of them, a personal and warm note, the kind I like to get. So what if I started writing them the first of November? These were to people who didn’t write every week, or even every month. Having prepared them for mailing so far in advance, there was no place to store them, so I shoved them, in neat little piles, under the couch.

A week before Christmas I hurriedly dragged them out and mailed them. Next spring, when I moved the couch, I found several piles of Christmas cards, all stamped and all with nice, friendly, personal notes. Now I have a few friends so understanding and so well acquainted with me that I could scrawl “just started my spring cleaning” across the envelope and send it on its way. Not everyone understood, however.

This year I’m trying a new system. Why not? None of the old ones worked. Even before Thanksgiving I started writing, stamping and mailing Christmas cards. Too early? Certainly. I know that but I trust my friends will realize it is better than next March. Most of these people know me pretty well, so I doubt if any of them will worry about the state of my mental health. I started with the pile of unanswered letters on my desk. I answered the letter and put it in with a Christmas card. If anyone thinks I’m saving postage this way it will do no harm. I am. It isn’t my main reason but it’s the truth and truth always has a certain beauty to it.

In a selfish way, the system I’m using this year is bringing me a lot of pleasure. I go through the cards whenever I send one out and I always see the one with the English robin on it. I never send it to anyone. Who else would enjoy looking at it half as much as I do?

I like the message on that card too. “Christmas is a joy in simple things: a bird singing on a snow-covered branch, a glow in the darkness and a little child’s laughter.”

That’s a nice thought to keep with me when the festivities grow a bit rank with commercialism, advertising and the frantic compulsion to celebrate. Christmas, like any other day, should be a joy in simple things.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox