The Sinister, Glitter-Fueled Truth Behind My Annual Holiday Cards

“Why don’t you just buy those boxes of cards at the grocery store?” my husband asks each year. Here's why.

Illustration by Angela Rio

Illustration by Angela Rio

Something happens to me around Christmastime, and it involves glitter.

Each year, just after Thanksgiving, I suddenly take leave of my senses, convince myself I’m crafty, and become obsessed with hand-making my holiday cards. I scour the shelves of Paper Source and the pages of Martha Stewart Living, setting unrealistic and downright masochistic goals: Yes! I think. This year I’ll embroider messages onto tiny squares of linen and deliver them by dove! 

In years past, my holiday cards have spanned various themes — sequin Christmas trees (each sequin hand-glued); paper mittens festooned with baker’s twine and wrapped in squares of flannel (I invested in a two-hour card-making workshop for these); tiny bags of festive confetti. But each version inevitably sees me on December 23rd wild-eyed, crazy-haired and caffeine-addled, elbows-deep in glitter, frantically cutting and gluing and sequin-ing like some sort of crazed elf in Santa’s Workshop From Hell.

“Why don’t you just buy those boxes of cards at the grocery store?” my husband asks each year, surveying the frantic scene with a mix of bewilderment and mild terror. And each year, I scoff at the suggestion. (Boxed sets? Are you kidding me? I AM A GODDAMN ELF!) But to be honest, it’s a good question: Why don’t I just buy them? What is it about holiday cards that turns me into a gluestick-wielding maniac?

The truth is something that few will readily admit but many will recognize: Holiday cards aren’t about spreading good cheer as much as they’re about spreading a lie. (In this case, the lie is that I’m Martha Stewart — a veneer that, if I’m being forthright, is cracked at the outset, as I typically don’t manage to mail out my cards until at least mid-January.)

Okay. Maybe “lie” is harsh. Still, I think many of us can agree that holiday cards are, at best, aspirational. We project the people we wish we actually were throughout the entire year onto these cards. For some, that means a professional photo of a perfect family, all matching sweaters and smiles, frolicking at a farm. For others, it’s a laundry list of the year’s vacations and milestones, helpfully compiled in a typed letter (one that, of course, slyly leaves things like breakups, weight gain and family therapy on the cutting-room floor). For me, it’s the handmade sequin Christmas tree, which I imagine telegraphs to friends and family that I’m a crafty holiday master, someone able to hold down a job and gin up 75 handmade sequin Christmas trees. I am on top of my shit.

Ironically, though, we don’t need cards to project our perfect selves. That’s why we have Facebook and Instagram. And this makes the whole endeavor even more curious: Given that we’re in an age of hyper-communication, you’d think the holiday card would be dead, a quaint relic of a time before we could filter our lives to perfection, back when we had to rely on things like vacation postcards to show friends and family that we were living our best lives. Yet we still cling to the cards, because there’s something nice — more sincere — about them. Of all the ways to spread lies, a holiday card is the most festive.

For me, it’s a way to preserve homespun civility, a chance to stretch my creative muscle, to pretend to myself that, yes, this has been the year that I’ve kept in better touch with people. And, fine, it’s a reason to buy sequins in bulk. Plus, lying to my loved ones, annoying my husband, driving myself nuts and glitter-bombing my friends has become a cherished holiday tradition. And I’m not ready to give it up.

Just don’t expect your card before February.

Published as “House of Cards” in the December 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.