seriously, sam?

Seriously, Sam? Good Tidings (the suburban sport of Holiday cards)

Seriously, Sam? is a monthly column that takes a lighter look at suburban life.  This month, Sam tackles the uniquely suburban sport of Holiday cards in Seriously, Sam? Good Tidings.  

I love the holidays. Like, I start listening to Christmas carols non-stop while cooking Thanksgiving, and reluctantly turn them off when my husband cries “uncle” on New Year’s Day. I have cultivated a vast stable of décor ranging from two Christmas trees – the “family” one decorated with gems like my husband’s 30-year-old, now-one-legged skiing reindeer, and heavily-glittered popsicle stick snowflakes that my kids made; and the “formal” one with glass Kurt Adler nutcrackers and a professionally-tied tree-top ribbon — to Mamacita, a stuffed Chihuahua in a pom-pom fringed sombrero who waves her paws while singing “Donde Esta Santa Claus?”

I hand wrap every, single, gift.

Every year I say I’ll do less. Every year I don’t. I can’t help it, I’m a type-A perfectionist and a Christmas junkie.

I should also probably mention that I am Jewish. My DNA profile: 98% Jew. I was Bat Mitzvahed in a pink, puffy-sleeved Laura Ashley dress, and my mellifluous haftorah made the congregation cry. I am Jewish with no wiggle room, except in my faith, which is “skeptical” at best. And my love of Christmas, which is limitless.

When I married a Presbyterian, my Christmas obsession was legitimized. But I quickly learned that, as with all addictions, Christmas too, has a dark underbelly — holiday cards. Holiday cards weren’t advertised on TV or featured in poignant movies; yet, in WASP culture they, like a dry martini at 5pm, were part of life.

My first card was a snapshot of our baby daughter captioned: “Merry Everything” (I felt any overt reference to “Christ” crossed a line.) I labeled, stuffed, sealed, stamped and mailed 120 envelopes to arrive before Christmas. It was a Hanukkah miracle. And Sam Greene from New Jersey transitioned into Samantha Woodruff (soon-to-be-from Connecticut).

Then, I actually moved to the suburbs. Here, holiday cards were a competitive sport. The apotheosis of suburban wifedom. Everybody sent one, and each was more elaborate than the next: hand mounted photographs, pre-strung ornaments, tri-fold collages with pithy descriptions of the year’s milestones. Receiving cards was equally important – if you got less than 5 every day of December, you were clearly a total loser.

I was frightened. Overwhelmed.


I dressed my kids in thematic outfits for professional photos (the only acceptable option if you didn’t capture a perfect moment on your summer in Nantucket). I expanded my list to include new acquaintances. I hand wrote “XO” on cards for my friends, so they would know that I knew that I knew them. I couldn’t bear to hand address the 250+ envelopes — the coup de grace of a true card maven — but I did change the font on my labels to look like handwriting. In spite of my near mastery of the Game of Cards, every year I enjoyed it less.

I wish I could tell you that I chose to opt-out of this annual activity that was sucking all the joy out of Christmas. But I didn’t. Instead, my marriage hit an un-Christmas-like rough patch and, as the holidays approached, real life supplanted cards. Out of time and enthusiasm, I posted a snapshot of my kids on Facebook captioned: “Happy Holidays, this is my card.”

I expected to be cast out of my club’s annual Brunch with Santa, barred from all Junior League events. Instead, I became a social media goddess. Flooded with likes, loves and commendations for my bravery.

Two years and zero cards later, I can proudly say that I still have friends and I’ve even been asked to chair a committee at my kids’ school. So, going forward, please know that I send you genuine love and my best wishes for a happy holiday season; but I’ve decided to recapture the magic of my Christmas – “Silver Bells” and decked-out halls instead of envelopes and stamps in balls. This season (and for the foreseeable future,) while your Instagram feed sucks valuable hours from your endless list of holiday to-dos, keep an eye out for my kids and obscenely large collection of singing stuffed animals. That will be my card.

About Samantha Woodruff

Samantha Woodruff holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. She spent most of her career at Viacom’s MTV Networks, where she oversaw Strategy, Business Development and Consumer Research for Nickelodeon and a host of other brands.

After becoming a mom and moving to the suburbs of Manhattan, Sam left corporate America and made being a mom to her 7 and 9 year old kids her full-time job. In her free moments, Sam teaches yoga and takes classes at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence. She is working on her first novel and writing essays that take a lighter look at the life of a former type-A executive turned suburban mom. Her work has been featured in Read650 and she contributes a monthly column, Seriously, Sam? to Suburbs 101.

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