Pulse: Social Diary: Playing Your Cards Right

Ah, the holidays. We’re stringing up the lights, popping open the prosecco—and feeling a bit insecure, because at this joyful time arrives a sheaf of Gorgeous Custom Holiday Cards. For the past few Decembers, we’ve been blown away by custom creations at a level of design quality that makes Wallpaper magazine layouts and Versace ads look tame and tired.

Photographed by Susan Beard or Dan Brody or Clare Pruett, these cards are so beautiful that they’d surely sell briskly at a high-end stationer such as Details or ­Paperia—who cares if the children pictured are from some other family you know from Shipley or Haverford? The fact is that with Christmas and Hanukkah cards getting so sublimely glossy, it’s only a matter of time until a Main Line family hires Annie Leibovitz to take pics of their kids.

How do they do it? Some of the cards are designed by friends on their computers, using pictures of their yellow Labs panting happily next to sweet-faced little girls, or impish boys in Brooks Brothers sweaters, smiling against an autumnal background of pumpkins and ivy-covered walls. “I gave my son a camera and let him take a lot of pictures,” says my friend Liz, which seemed to warm him up to the idea. Others haven’t mastered the art of persuasion: “For years, I tortured myself and my children to pose,” confides a friend in Gladwyne. “The kids made funny faces, screamed, cried and pouted as I begged, told jokes, made funny faces, cried, threatened and bribed. I eventually gave up.” She now goes the composite route, an emerging trend in which you buy a regular card and tuck inside it a sheet of photos of your kids taken randomly over the year.

More enervating still is the Impossibly Fabulous Holiday Card, one that you simply gape at in wonder after opening the hand-lettered, massively thick, gazillion-count envelope thereof. “We have one friend who sent a card with an oil painting they’d had done of their kids,” says a friend in Penn Valley. Another friend says his social circle’s cards include photos taken atop mountains in Montana and at Something’s Gotta Give-ish spreads in the Hamptons; we got one missive last year that showed friends (sans kids) toasting each other with glasses of Super Tuscan outside a villa in Florence.

And once you start sending these cards, you’ve set a daunting standard. A Rittenhouse Square woman who sends out 400 cards to clients and friends says by August, she’s feeling the pressure: “Last year I bagged it and went commercial. I felt like I had sold out.”

Oh, for the days of grabbing a couple of boxes of cards at the mall and calling it a holiday. But then, just before last Christmas, something encouraging arrived: a card from one of the most stylish couples we know. A regular Christmas card: a very pretty one, but not customized in any way. Was the tide turning back? We decided it was. At least, it is this year in our family.