Ugly Season’s Greetings

No season is so rich with holiday traditions as the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Rituals including football, shopping, ugly sweaters and outrageous behavior at office parties are ever-present. Seasonal melodies, foods, television specials, holiday plants and family disagreements all take prominence during this special time of year.

Like many families, we have many of our own unique holiday traditions that we’re passing from one generation to the next. For example, my mom always required that each of us be attentive we opened every gift, one at a time. We still do it that way.

In homage to the classic holiday film “Christmas Vacation,” each December our tree sports a stuffed squirrel peering through the branches and around the ornaments.

But perhaps our strangest family tradition has to do with Christmas cards.

I love opening the mail and finding cards. It’s great to catch up with relatives, learn the latest news, see pictures of friends’ children and, of course, select the Ugliest Christmas Card. It is the most time-honored of all O’Dell holiday traditions.

After all of the presents have been opened and dinner is done, the whole family combines all of the cards we have received and begin deliberations, looking for this year’s most unappealing, odd and tacky card. It’s like the selection process for Miss America, only beauty is forbidden, as are talent and intelligence.           

Any way, we each cast votes and a winner (or loser, depending on your perspective) is chosen. The selected card earns a spot in our Hall of Shame, a binder with each honoree preserved and enshrined in a sheet protector. It’s Christmas-classy.

In an effort to protect the innocent (or guilty) senders, only the front of the card is preserved.  Because of this, we cannot be certain about repeat offenders, but I’m guessing there have been a few (and you know who you are). I know some people might be aggravated that their warm holiday greeting has earned the title Ugliest Card, but look at it this way: Christmas cards are supposed to bring cheer, and when we have an array of cards vying for the title, we laugh, we joke and we smile. It’s pure Christmas joy.

We’ve selected the Ugliest Cards for more nearly three decades and over the years trends have emerged. The kings or wise men who trekked to the manger often look more on winning cards like sports fans hours into tailgating and searching for the game. They never are depicted as regal or intelligent, but rather look frightening in a don’t-move-into-my-neighborhood sort of way.

Cutesy animals always seem to make cards perennial contenders. What do bunnies have to do with Christmas? Maybe they’ve lost their calendars and need to ask the wise men to help them find Easter. Cats always seem to be on Christmas cards, but never dogs. Cats with presents, cats making snow angels, cats in chimneys.

We’ve honored cards with blue snow, purple kings and black Christmas trees. There have been prizewinners with flock, sparkles and all sorts of schlock. Even Santa has not been safe from selection.

Truth is it’s all a matter of taste (or lack thereof) – kind of like fruitcakes, which people also continue to distribute this time of year. And, just like the fruitcakes, choosing the Ugliest Card is nutty and you never know what you’ll get. We just can’t stop. It’s a tradition.

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