A new hallmark for holiday happiness

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Most people I know love this time of year. My wife Katie is one of those people.

Katie’s holiday celebration trifecta starts in mid-October, when Halloween decorations start appearing all over the house, inside and out, followed by multiple family pumpkin carving events and then a massive candy procurement program – publicly disapproved by the American Dental Association, but privately cheered as their biggest business development push of the year.

By the time we get to Oct. 31, the holiday machine is running at full steam with each family member receiving assignments for candy distribution and trick-or-treater engagement.

My role has shifted over the years as I’ve transitioned from a young-ish dad who would give unlimited quantities of treats and smiles to anyone and everyone who came to the door, to an old-ish (slightly grumpy) dad who would question (interrogate) teenagers on why a group of 17-year-olds were at my door looking for free candy. (Hence my recent reassignment to our living room couch, where I now typically catch up on a backlog of “Law & Order.”)

And whenever there is a lull of trick-or-treaters at our door, I’ve been the first to suggest that we close shop for the night (“It’s 5:30. Everyone should be done now, right? How about we just turn out the lights?”) while Katie stands vigilant until late in the night to be sure that we answer the bell for anyone making the Halloween effort.

Then, there’s Thanksgiving.

Before I met my wife, I always thought of Thanksgiving as more of an occasion for a meal than a holiday celebration. For reasons that are still hazy to me 20 years later, I recall a three-year stretch while I lived in Atlanta and my Thanksgiving tradition was to visit my local Waffle House for some “scattered, smothered and covered” food, a little jukebox music, and – clearer now in retrospect – a small helping of quiet despair.

These days, Katie makes Thanksgiving a two-week, multi-meal event, that culminates, year after year, with the best turkey dinner I’ve ever tasted. The fact that my wife is vegetarian and yet indulges (and expertly cooks for) my carnivorous appetite without question or complaint is something that I’m grateful for – especially whenever another kale shake goes into the blender.

But, more important than the food itself, it’s the family spirit that she infuses into every birthday celebration, holiday, or get-together, that is Katie’s most powerful ingredient.

While Halloween and Thanksgiving are big playoff games, it’s Christmas that is the Super Bowl of all holidays in our home. Planning starts on Dec. 26 and Katie is usually up until 2 a.m. 364 days later, wrapping presents on Christmas morning. In between are the typical elements of celebration (lights, poinsettias, eggnog, etc.) but again, for me, it’s the spirit of the holiday that makes it so special, not the meals, gifts or ceremony.

Truth be told, I’ve never really enjoyed the holiday experience.

As an advertising/marketing executive for more than 30 years, I’ve seen behind the commercialization curtain, I know the “Oz” of materialism, and it’s harder each year for me to follow the yellow brick road from one holiday to another without picking up a little more cynicism along the way.

Do you know that the Greeting Card Association reports that Americans purchase approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards each year, for a total of between $7 and $8 billion in sales? Hallmark, the largest card company, had sales of $3.8 billion.

From the industry website, the most popular seasonal cards are Christmas cards, with some 1.6 billion cards purchased, followed by cards for Valentine’s Day (145 million cards); Mother’s Day (133 million); Father’s Day (90 million); graduation (67 million); Easter (57 million); Halloween (21 million); Thanksgiving (15 million); and St. Patrick’s Day (7 million.)

Think about this for a minute. People across America will spend approximately $4 billion this year to say “Merry Christmas” to 1.6 billion other people through a piece of paper stuffed in an envelope – most possibly with the message written months earlier by someone on the seventh floor at Hallmark Cards headquarters in Kansas City.

When Hallmark was founded in 1910, the marketplace was created because individuals did not have access to a printing press. But it’s now 2015 and virtually everyone can write a message or print a message to anyone else – almost instantly. Still, most of us will follow this archaic consumer pattern out of tradition, guilt, laziness and social expectation.

How many of us would prefer that a loved one spend 15 minutes composing a thoughtful and personalized written message, instead of that same person running out to Rite Aid on Christmas Eve to buy a mass-produced $4 holiday card and then scribbling their name on it? (I’ve been that guy too often.)

I love my wife, our children Emily, Cammy, Zack, and my grandson Jax, beyond words. So, going forward, those “words” will exclusively be my own. I vow to never purchase another greeting card and to instead spend the time needed to express those sentiments directly.

That’s my small, but actionable step, to reclaim an element of holiday spirit not connected to the commercial holiday machine. (Don’t take it personally, Hallmark.)

Best thoughts and wishes to each and every one of you this holiday season.

Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.