Despite my addiction to email and Yahoo! Instant Messenger, I'm still a big fan of the handwritten note. There's a time and a place for instant communication to convey ideas and information, and there's a time and a place for the personal touch and the extra time and effort it takes to convey gratitude, delight and other emotions. Whenever my kids receive presents for their birthdays or the holidays, I ask them to write thank-you cards. Virtual thank-you cards or emails or even pre-printed cards with fill-in-the-blank spaces for the giver, gift and recipient won't cut it. Now that they can write, I expect my kids to write a brief note of thanks and appreciation.
The same applies to holiday cards. I know most people send generic holiday cards, with no "To Jane and family"on them and a pre-printed "From the Smith family" on them, but I always address each and every card and insist that every member of the family sign their names at the bottom. With holiday card lists reaching into the hundreds and beyond, I understand why you wouldn't want to handwrite an individualized greeting to each and every one, but it feels much more personal to me when I see a card actually addressed to me, with a real signature on it. When I receive a signed holiday card, I feel like the person sending me the card really did think about me and my family. Much as I love online card stores for printing my holiday cards, I would never use them to address my cards and send them for me, without my even touching them. You might as well just send out a mass email with your family photo in a jpeg attachment and the text in red and green font; after all, how much thought did you actually give to the recipient if he or she is just another name on your holiday card list?
That's why The Signing of the Cards is an annual tradition that my family has come to expect each and every year. When the kids were very small, we handed them a set of red and green markers and let them loose on as many holiday cards as their attention spans would allow. If they got through ten cards, great; if they only had the patience for one, that was fine too. The limited-edition decorated cards would go to privileged family members, and the plain ones would go to old high school buddies and other friends who probably didn't care whether their cards had random scribbles on them.
As they learned to write their names, I began asking them to sign. Since they still weren't up to signing fifty cards in one sitting, I'd hand it out to them five cards at a time. Usually the first card would have their names, painstakingly printed out, with accompanying smiley Santa face. By the third card, the name would shorten to a single initial, with Santa nowhere to be found, and by the fifth one at least one child would turn to me and say, "I'm sooo tiiiiiiiiired. I don't want to do this anymoooooooore". So I'd put the cards away and try again another day (those were the days I started The Signing of the Cards in early November).
After a couple of years the handwriting grew steadier, the Santa smilies started looking more like Santa, and the 5-card sessions lengthened to 10, but I'd still get the "I don't want to do this anymooooooooore". I felt like a slave driver, but I stuck to my guns and got every card signed before it went into an envelope. The Signing of the Cards was getting to be one of those holiday traditions that no one looks forward to, like waiting in airport lines on the night before Thanksgiving, or having to sit beside your great-aunt Emma and let her kiss you.
This year, something changed. When I told the kids it was time to start signing cards, they were actually eager to get started. They gathered a bunch of glitter gel pens and colored markers and set themselves up in an assembly line. Cards flew from child to child as they signed their names (3Po and Jammy even attempted to do it in cursive, resulting in some fancy but illegible signatures) and drew little holiday icons. If they had had their way, they would have drawn whole winter scenes, complete with snowflakes and sleighs. Instead of moans of "Not now!", there were whines of "Aren't there any more cards to sign?". The Signing of the Cards was actually a fun tradition this year, and we now have a hundred cheerful holiday cards we can send to family and friends. They'll know we are truly thinking of them this holiday season -- the proof is in the signatures!