The Winter (Holiday Card) of My Discontent / by Julie Schumacher

It took us more than four years to pull it together for a holiday card. It was a thing we wanted to do. We were going to do it! And then it was mid-December and we hadn’t so vows and plans and goals were set for the next year. Next year we'd do it!

Repeat. Three more times. I don't know how big people with little people pull stuff off sometimes. Or people running their own businesses. Or the lucky intersection of truly insane people, like us, who choose to do both.

Until last year. It was an expedited shipping kinda doing-it thing. But we did it.

Beyond general life stuff, there were three things impeding us in years past that we were finally able to negotiate with grace in 2015.

  1. We are not religious. Christmas is celebrated as a heritage thing more than even a cultural thing. Our parents did so we do. Many of our friends celebrate all kinds of lovely things so we wanted a card that was inclusive and not at all holiday specific. I think I’d veer more towards a New Year's card but wanted whatever we send to be out early enough that it can make friends with the other holiday cards hung or strung.
  2. I am a writer. Man, I struggle with other people's words being my words. I wanted a card that could have my words. Call me greedy, I will cop to the Grinch.
  3. My partner is a designer by training. So the words and images we pick needed to reflect his talents, too. 

Looking back, oh my, those were easy problems to solve. What naïveté! 

We landed on a card that felt forward looking while talking about reflection. Fairly literally.

So optimistic! So not-holiday-specific! So us!

Instead of a standard ho-ho-ho one or smiley family one (though we truly love those!), we found a way to tell a story from our year, reflect our goals for the next year and share our values as a family.

Heck, it was also simply a good photo, and we’d had a good year and looked forward to this year. A year full of good things! Yay 2016!

What year? Right, this year.

Prior to the hellmouth opening on freedoms and opportunities and even basic fact, I’d been casually sorting through our photos and sussing out some winners for this year. Since last year’s card included a shot of our young daughter mid-frolic during a summer sabbatical in New Zealand (it was winter-ish there), I was leaning heavily on our trip this year to provide the winner.

And it should have! We had some fantastic photos from a summer spent sweating in DC. Our lucky butts went to the White House! Where Michelle Obama lives! Besides a standard public tour a dear friend took us through the West Wing one evening (I cried) and bowling in the basement (I sucked). 

I figured we’d riff on a shot of our girl in front of the White House and a history-making woman president and heck yea 2017. Easy peasy.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead of optimism for what's to come, I have a chronic low level belly ache of anxiety. And that’s just if I think about my family. Add in our friends who might worship or look or love or live outside of a narrow definition of acceptable, and that ache is replaced by deep fear and heartbreak. 

What could possibly be card worthy? Why bother? There are battles to fight. Screw holiday cards. We should just skip it this year (and next and next and next) and have a sad streak of one. 

I wasn't alone in my glumness. Minted's founder/CEO, Mariam Naficy, shares how card designers witnessed folks feeling lost about finding a message this year. (Thanks to Design Mom for sharing).

And thank you, yes, I know we could've donated the money used for cards to causes. That a good progressive would do just that. We did donate and intend to donate both time and money to the best of our abilities. On it, promise.

But, I don't know, y'all, I still wanted to send something out. Like many people, I am looking for connections on common cause. For the nod of acknowledgement between likeminded souls. The USPS version of the safety pin. Maybe it would be meaningless, maybe it would be mocked. But maybe, as a friend said about safety pins, it makes one person feel just a little bit better, a little bit less alone, a little bit safer. Maybe it's one ridiculously small drop in the ocean of voice raising and/or hell raising I hope to see.

Sometimes you have to seek joy and say something, even if it's fleeting and not perfect. In Taylor's piece this week, her father spoke of finding happiness in the midst of pain, outrage and hurt. So much of what she shared has settled into my bones. As a mother, myself, I am thoughtful about how I empower my daughter both towards activism and bravery, work to make her aware of her privilege and of massive injustice and at the same damn time guide her towards joy.

We decided to say something. To send something.

Otherwise, the silence wins. I can't do that. I won't do that. I won't be silent. 

With a revised family holiday-ish card mission statement, we got to work. Now our list of three qualifiers had this big hairy beast of a qualifier added to it. It could not, would not, can not, will not ignore the state of things. And it could not, would not, can not, will not take a neutral stance on where our family will stand.

If I were a religious woman, you can bet I would've prayed on this. 

My first idea was a black card that just read: Happy New Year?

Because, honestly, I am not sold on 2017 not being a holy hot mess. 

I reeled it in though. Fatalism will get me no where. It won’t protect a single right. Help a single friend. Or change a single thing. It might have gotten me a laugh (which I sure like) but I wanted to send a flare up, even a small one, that fatalism will not be the dominant tone of 2017. Nope.

We dug through the rest of the trip photos. And there it was. On its own an ok photo, but with my husband's editing skills and the right words, it takes on reality without bleakness. (If you're curious about the location, it's a pinball museum in Asheville, NC. Our daughter got way into pinball this summer even though she's just terrible at it.)

And for the back, a message that points to the unknown, to the tilt. We played with a few different phrases here. One was "Here's to the tilt" which I thought was subversive and middle finger-y to the fights brewing for all the good things we talked about the year before. That we could game or break or remake the system. But, maybe that was also quietly supporting a system that got us into this mess? Or cheersing having things go haywire? Or a bit too playful in very serious times?

Instead, we went with this.


Everything’s been flipped on its head. And in the grand scheme of things, this holiday card matters not so much. I know that. 

Here’s what else I know to be true. Our little family? We’re going to fight for the more vulnerable, speak for the sensible, be unrelenting in our commitment to freedom, justice and equality (and expanding all those for all mankind) and work as hard as we can to make this trip round the sun less horrible than it portends to be. Time to evaluate, educate, emphasize and mobilize. I may not lose 15 pounds or take up a new hobby in 2017. I will, though, be resolute. It’s Game On, and we’re ready.