Why There’s No Christmas Card in 2011

I’ve been sending out Christmas cards since 1988, and this year it’s not happening. Since I’m a little “in my head” about it, and since I attach some significance to this tradition, and since a lot of people say they look forward to it every year, I feel the need to explain myself — even if nobody feels the need to hear it.

The short answer is I just didn’t get my shit together, didn’t get a picture I felt great about, and now that it’s December I don’t want to rush it, to put in all the time and effort and cost to send out 150 cards that I don’t feel that great about, just to keep a tradition going. So I’m taking a year off.

In fact, the honor and importance I give to the cards is a reason to not just squeeze one out this year. It has meant something to me for a long time. But there was always an ego element to the thing that I wasn’t comfortable with — sending out photos with me in them, to carry on some “grand tradition” that maybe people don’t care that much about — so this is a nice break from that whole thought process.

Wait, that wasn’t much of a short answer, was it?

The longer answer is that, from the beginning, it was never about the picture, or even the card. It was about a moment. I came to call it “the Santa moment,” but really, it’s a moment when all the energies in your life line up in a positive way, when the lights come on and you feel both inspired and grounded, calm and excited, but either way you feel right there in the moment, as the person you are, living your life, awash in magic and beauty.

These moments aren’t about Christmas, of course. But Christmas is a time to honor friendships and connections, and my sending of the cards was a way to share my “Santa moments” with friends and family, to say “Hey, when I had this amazing moment this year, in this beautiful place, I was thinking of all of you, and I wanted to share this moment with you. So I put on a Santa hat, and here’s the picture.”

The first of these moments totally snuck up on me. In 1988 I climbed the Grand Teton in Wyoming with a guide, and on the top, one of the other clients pulled out a sign that said “Merry Christmas.” He had his buddy take his picture with it, and my mind just about exploded. It was one of the greatest, random ideas I’d ever seen. So I borrowed the sign, and a tradition was born. There I was, on a mountain I’d dreamed about for years, having a Moment. And I shared it with a Christmas card.

After that, it was partially about seeking the moment, and partially about recognizing it. Maybe I’d haul the Santa hat on a hiking trip, planning to jump into a mountain lake, and maybe I’d spontaneously scribble “Merry Christmas” on a piece of paper during a smokin’ Grateful Dead concert. Some years the cards were magic, some years they were just cards, one or two I kind of cringe about. Check ’em out if you’d like.

So, 2011. I had some fine moments this year, and went to some great places that would have made perfectly good Santa photos. But I never developed a card plan that I felt good about, and I never found myself in That Moment when everything was right and a photo would work.

I am tempted to say that’s evidence that something was missing for me this year, and there’s something to that. I’ve been a little out of The Groove lately; I’ve gotten myself so busy and task-oriented that the magic seems to have gotten crowded out. I am also tempted to say that the ego trip of “Hey, everybody, look at me in this cool place I got to visit this year!” finally ran out, at least for a year. And maybe, after 22 years, the tradition just needs a break, and perhaps a re-think.

All I know is that when December rolled around, that thought kicking around in my head (“I need to do something about that card!”) came to the forefront, then just kind of dissolved. I realized I don’t “need” to do anything. Stop forcing it. And don’t go email or generic pre-made card or Jacquie Fucking Lawson. Do it right or take a year off.

I also realized my main concern about not sending a card was, “What would people think?” (Speaking of that, and ego, we’re now close to 700 words on an explanation that nobody asked for.) And doing something that doesn’t feel right, just to keep up others’ opinions of me, is a path to insanity. Trust me, I know.

And finally it came down to, “Paul, what do you want to do?” The answer was clear: take a year off, give myself and the cards a break … and explain myself. I do care about perceptions. At the very least, I don’t want people to think only they didn’t get a card.

So now I’ve explained myself. I guess I needed to write this out to see what was rattling around my head about it. I can’t imagine anybody is still reading, but hey, this one is for me. I write because it’s what I do.

If you are still reading, and even if you’re not, know that in this moment, which is neither photographic nor particularly inspired, I am thinking of you and sending you warmth and affection. Whatever magic is in this moment — and I think it’s endless, in One Great Eternal Moment — I share with you.

Paul Gerald

I am the author of several books on hiking, camping, eating breakfast and chilling out. I am also a freelance travel writer, publisher, hiker, and inveterate traveler.

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