One year, well over a decade ago, I packing away my holiday decorations away for the year and faced a dilemma: what to do with the crop of photo cards that had made their way into my home that year?
This was early on in the trend of beautifully-designed photo cards; prior to that, cards were typically purchased by the box, with a scrawled note and a family photo or, more often, the children’s school photos tucked inside. That made it easy to separate out the photos and toss the card.
But now, the cards themselves had become mini works of art, and worse, the card and the photo were one and the same. I didn’t want to leave a bunch of Christmas cards stuck to my fridge all year, and it was too guilt-inducing to toss them out. I liked the idea of keeping the photos, but space was at a premium and I just didn’t know what to do with them.
Finally, in a rush to get the holiday packing-up done, I just tossed all the cards into the bin alongside the ornaments and nativity scene and figured I’d deal with it next year. The following year, the first thing I saw when I opened the bin were holiday greetings, accompanied by the smiling faces of friends from the year prior. And thus, one of my favorite holiday traditions was born.
Now, every year when I pull out the holiday decor, I take a few minutes to sift through the stack of cards – which has grown considerably fatter over the years. It’s like a holiday time capsule, with some cards serving as a reminder of how one family’s gaggle of littles looked five or seven years ago; others prompting me to reach out to friends with whom I’ve lost touch. And, okay, some cards give me a brief “Wait, who are these people?” reaction. It’s all part of the fun.
I’m not too precious about it, mind you. There are gaps where I know cards from a year or two must have gone astray, and I don’t stress over it. I also don’t do anything special to preserve the cards or keep them safe from creases or oxidation – they aren’t meant to last forever. It’s just a fun little ritual that, each year, gives me the opportunity to reflect on important relationships from my past and present and lets me ogle over cute babies and toddlers, some of whom have grown into teenagers in the interim. It also simplifies my holiday clean-up routine, and keeps my fridge and drawers from becoming cluttered while also preventing the guilt of throwing a stack of smiling faces in the recycle bin.
Sometimes the best systems and rituals come about by surprise, and holidays give us many opportunities to try things on. This year, let’s all try to stay open to new routines and rituals, especially when the simplest possible solution fixes the problem – and injects a dose of holiday joy.
ACTIVITY: As you’re unpacking holiday decorations – or packing them back up later this month – ask yourself: is there a way I’ve always done this, or just feel like I should do this, that isn’t working? What clever workaround might make this process easier and more fun?