'Tis the Season . . .

Blog Author David Gremp

The holidays have always been one of my favorite times of the year. Aside from the fact that I hate shopping (and wrapping) and getting the tree straight in its stand. Not to mention that stringing the lights is one of the MOST frustrating things I’ve EVER had to do, and that it's dark by 4:30pm just depresses me. All that said, I’ve always found solace in my self-imposed ritual of making and sending out a holiday card to all the most important people in my life.

I know that the very notion of sending and receiving holiday cards is repugnant to many, and the much maligned “newsletter” a source of ridicule. While Hallmark does a fair job of offering a wide variety of options, from spiritual to secular, serious to humorous, they don’t convey much in the way of “personal.” And it’s always nice to receive an updated family photo, even if it was taken on a summer vacation (those tend to be the only ones I save). As for the “newsletters” . . . I have always felt that as newsworthy as they could be, they usually left a lot to be desired in terms of “editing” (i.e. we don’t need to know everything that happened over the past year!). I’m usually left thinking, “why waste a stamp and an envelope, much less the glitter that pours out of some said envelopes when I remove the card with a canned message and an embossed signature” and “why do I care to hear about Aunt Martha’s (whom I’ve never met) gastro-intestinal problems?”

So, around the time that I/we were starting our own family, I decided that I needed to take advantage of this time of year and provide my/our families with a personalized annual “update.” I began by making my own card with a recent photograph and a hand-written message. The people I was most interested in communicating with were my aunts and uncles, cousins and old friends who were spread out across the country and seldom saw. Ditto for my wife’s family. I would sit down at the dining room table with pen, paper and a bottle of sherry to compose personal, yet similar, letters to each reflecting upon the past year. This would take two or three nights, produce hand cramps and, more often than not, require more than one bottle of sherry.

Then one foggy Christmas year I received a revelation! One of my cousins, whom I hadn’t seen or heard from in years (decades!), composed a form letter that she sent out to everyone that was actually fun to read. It was short but informative, funny yet heartfelt, and it was xeroxed! Bingo! If my cousin could do it, then so could I.

From then on, I began to write my own “letter to ALL!” I would compose it while commuting to work on the train, type it into the computer, edit it, run it by the “censors” (my wife and, eventually, my kids), make a bunch of xeroxes and send it out to everyone. But, I also felt that it had to contain more than that. It had to have a personal, or at least “hand-made” quality to it.

And that’s when I arrived at a compromised solution. Along with the form letter, I would select an image that seemed seasonally appropriate from my 2-1/4" negatives, go into the darkroom and make 50 or so contact prints, cut them up into tiny squares and mount them with clear photo corners to the “cover” of the tri-folded piece of 8-1/2" x 11" paper with the 3-column form letter xeroxed on the backside. Of course, it took me a few nights in the darkroom, and a few more nights to fold and assemble, and, of course, a bottle or so of sherry while signing and writing short personalized notes in each card. But, the end result was, to me, an earnest effort to send something informative and personal to all the people who matter to me and my family.

The response was positive, and in time my mailing list grew, which only meant more darkroom time, more xeroxes, more envelopes and more stamps. The only thing that bugged me was more darkroom time! By then, I’d transitioned to RC paper for its fast processing, washing and drying times, but it was still time-consuming.

And that’s when I had my next revelation: digital! I realized that I could scan my one negative, make a life-size, 2-1/4” image, duplicate it 12 times, and create a “contact sheet” that I could cut up into 12 individual squares. Voila! Hit “print” eight times and get 96 images in about 20 minutes!

It became, over 25 years, something that I actually looked forward to. Choosing or creating an image, reflecting back over the past 12 months, summarizing it into a succinct message and sharing it with family, friends and even a special grocery clerk, Starbuck’s barista, bartender or an occasional stranger.

However, lately, I’ve been thinking . . . the “newsletter” CAN be too much. My kids have outgrown mention (aside from a new grandchild announcement) and, of course, nobody wants to hear about MY gastro-intestinal issues, much less my political views and things that don’t belong in a holiday newsletter to begin with!

I still feel compelled to put something together, and I will continue that tradition, at least once a year. It IS the most wonderful time of the year . . . to recollect and reconnect with those who matter most in your life!

‘Tis the season! Be jolly and share!


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