The Year Without Christmas Cards

The Year Without Christmas Cards

Christmas Eve has always been a rather nostalgic time for me. Okay, maybe always is an exaggeration. Or perhaps even a lie. In actuality, most years I’m stressing out over last minute card-addressing or gift-wrapping or stocking-stuffing or house-cleaning or any other number of -ing things.

Yet this December 24th — due to a combination of good medication and intentional choices — I have time to soak up some of that nostalgia. One of the choices I made this year was to not design our family’s holiday card. While that might not seem like a big deal to most folks, it’s a bit of a milestone for me.

1999 Holiday card
1999: Our first family Christmas card.

Beginning in 1999 — mine and Papa’s third Christmas together — I began creating our Christmas cards. For many years it was a way to promote my design business or as a thank you to clients. In recent years, they’ve featured whimsical variations on the conventional family holiday photo card. There were even a couple of years where my anxiety was particularly intense that I resorted to said convention. Even then, I eschewed prefab templates, personalizing the design if only slightly.

This year I started my annual process as usual: brainstorming, sketching, gathering color palettes and references. I got as far as an initial layout. I even made sure we got our Christmas tree up right after Thanksgiving, as our card was to include a shot of us sitting by the tree.

2009 Holiday card and birth announcement
2009: Our son’s birth announcement doubled as a holiday card (and my first blog post). Best Gift Ever, indeed!

In addition to the regular Christmas chaos, I was also rehearsing for and performing in my chorus’ annual holiday concert. Last year was virtual, but this year we were back on stage, albeit masked, spread out a bit more, and performing in shifts. Yet as part of a small ensemble (which I was also now manager), I had to perform all four shows.

Contemplating the upcoming calamity, my husband asked (cautiously) if I’d rather just buy cards this year. At that point I was still forging ahead, determined to do it all — not wanting to disappoint our card recipients.

2012 Christmas Card
2012: After our first family trip to Italy, our card featured some of the food, family and sights we encountered.

Yet right before the start of tech week, I got a cold. Like everyone with the slightest sniffle or scratchy throat in the past two years, I wondered if it was something more. Alas, it was not Covid, and it wasn’t even that bad of a cold. But it did have me laid up for a couple of days — a couple of days I didn’t spend working on our card.

When I finally felt well enough to return to rehearsals, I did so with a great amount of self-care. It had been almost two years since I’d performed, so standing around for two hours during the dress rehearsal took its toll on me. I took a break at one point to sit in the wings, wanting to avoid passing out on stage. When I got home that night, I decided that this year I was setting aside tradition. The next morning, I did something I’d always joked was unthinkable — I bought Christmas cards from a store.

2018 Holiday card
2018: The last card featuring our sweet baby girl, seen here floating as an angelic reindeer.

Funny thing was, it wasn’t even that difficult of a decision. I wasn’t concerned about promoting my work to my current and potential clients; I didn’t worry about friends and family being disappointed; I didn’t even worry about breaking a two-decades old tradition. I knew I’d probably design the card next year, that life would go on, and Christmas wouldn’t be ruined.

How did everything turn out? Well, I made it through the numerous rehearsals and shows — exhausted but happy with our performances. I got all my cards (store-bought, but still cute and fairly Brent-esque) mailed out. I got my shopping and cleaning done. I’ve even finished wrapping all but a couple of gifts — something I don’t think I’ve ever achieved in my life.

Oh yeah, and I had time to write a blog post!

2019 Holidays
2019: A rare photo card, celebrating not only the holidays, but also the Washington Nationals’ World Series win!

This Christmas eve, I’ll be prepping dessert for tomorrow’s family dinner. I may play a couple of board games with my husband and son. Maybe listen to some records and have a cheery cocktail. Perhaps dream of sugarplums. I think I made a good decision about the cards, don’t you?

However, I have spent some of this free time reminiscing about all those cards I’ve designed, illustrated, photographed, and constructed over the last 22 years. It makes for a wonderful scrapbook of a very full life. I look forward to making more memories next year. But for now, I’m content to remember past Christmases fondly and enjoy the peacefulness of this one.

Happy Holidays

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Pardon my nostalgia… a few more favorites.

2002 Christmas Card
2002: Card featuring an illustration I did for the Kennedy Center. Clients got a real nutcracker!


2003 Holiday Card
2003: Holiday card (and note cards for clients) featuring sketches from our honeymoon to the Amalfi Coast.


2005 Holidays
2005: First card featuring a family photo, including our new baby girl, Cordi!


2010 Holiday card
2010: A card that doubled as an ornament, with one of my favorite illustrations — A Pear in a Partridge Tree!


2014 Holidays
2014: Sometimes it was hard to get everyone together in the same photo! The first of several “photoshop head” cards.


2017 Holiday card
2017: Another round card, another set of “photoshop heads” — this time celebrating our love of sweets!


2020 Holidays
2020: Probably my all-time favorite, produced during lockdown, sporting matching plaid, and making the best of a trying holiday season.

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Some cards are linked to separate posts on the blog, with more backstory and context of what was going on in our family that year. Click the photos to find which ones!

Special shout-out to my husband, Nick (AKA St. Nick), who has had an incredibly busy and decidedly un-peaceful holiday season. I just want him to know how much Jon and I love and appreciate all that he does for our family! 

Wishing you and yours a happy, peaceful holiday and a healthy, joyous new year. And as always, thank you so much for reading. It truly means the world to me.

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