Your Baby’s Face In The Trash

(Why I Hate Photo Cards)

Growing up in a Christian household in pre-internet days, every December we would get tons of holiday cards (>100 for our family of five) which we would happily put up on book shelves, window sills, on the t.v. set — any nook and cranny we could find in our tiny apartment. Even school children had a tradition of exchanging cards amongst themselves. Reciprocity bought you goodwill and helped secure the following year’s minimum take. Christmas cards were cool.

I liked looking at the drawings and designs. I preferred secular motifs like Christmas trees, peaceful winter scenery, stars with real glitter. Human figures, not so much. Michelangelo didn’t work for Hallmark — I found most of the representations of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, sheep, etc. rather baa and meh. In any case, everything went into the trash came January. Being highly unsentimental, I never thought to keep these evidence of grade-school popularity in a shoebox.

I was a FOB going to a public high school in Queens, NY, for the first two winters of my life in this country. Back then, there was little fuss raised over “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” I was an unsuspecting kid eager to collect cards. I also didn’t know how to tell white Jewish people from the WASPs. They all looked the same. (Still do.) I gave cards to everybody — white kids, yellow kids, brown kids, black kids. I got few back in return. I will always remember this look of utter shock and disbelief when I handed Nathan a Christmas card. Nathan was Jewish. I graduated as the top nerd in a class of 599. Needless to say I was never cool.

Air mail was still a thing then and I got cards and letters from my former schoolmates in Hong Kong. But those would be the last physical artifacts I received from my “country” of origin. I did not keep up with the practice of sending cards. There are cards that I bought in the late 1990’s still sitting in my drawer, unused. My handwriting is horrendous. I am lazy. I don’t like consuming paper products. There’s email. I consider the whole year-end summary of travel destinations, graduations, promotions and other accomplishments a farce, a cop-out from regular check-ins and communication that underly real, meaningful relationships. I couldn’t be bothered.

But the advent of photo cards has changed everything. All of a sudden there’s a deluge of personalized cards featuring impeccably dressed children replacing the story of Jesus’ humble beginnings. I’m not even Christian, but talk about a war on Christmas. This irony aside, getting photo cards makes me feel bad, and here’s why.

My objection to these cards stems from a sentimentality that I believe we all share. As humans, we ascribe meaning to certain objects and hold some to be special or sacred — the image of a loved one, a little buddha statue, a poem written by a lover. We don’t casually toss them into the trash after we’re done with them. These are keepsakes. When it comes to disposing photo cards after the holidays, I feel bad to have to make the call to keep those from my sister’s and brother’s and discard yours. You would feel bad if you knew that the glossy picture of Junior on Santa’s lap went to the dumpster with my tampon, and I don’t want that. But there’s only so much real estate on my fridge.

So here’s some advice for my card-sending friends:

  • Only send photo cards to family or fairy god-parents.
  • If you’re artsy or crafty, make something unique that stands a chance of surviving the post-holiday purge. (I asked my artist friend to hand-draw a card for my boo. It is infinitely more special than if I had ordered a selfie print from Walmart.)
  • If there’s a photo or a piece of artwork that holds great sentimental value for you and you’d like to share it with me, please include a SASE. I will scribble my blessings on the back with my horrible handwriting and mail it back to you.
  • Really, just use Facebook. I enjoy seeing children’s pictures in different settings over the seasons, and it’s a much more engaging experience than getting a single snapshot in the mail and there’s not even a place to click “Like” :)

At the end of the day it bothers me less to recycle a bad baby Jesus drawing than to see your baby’s face in the trash. On the flip side, I know I will think very fondly of your children if you’d just send a box of chocolates and sign their names.

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