The catalogs have been arriving in the mail for months, because it’s that time of year.  The solicitations for charitable and political donations come in multiples every day, and even a few early holiday cards, letters, and invitations are trickling in.  The holiday season is upon us!

The best holiday mail, of course, is personal:  the letters and cards that keep us in touch with family and friends, near and far.  I treasure these communications, and have trouble recycling them, even years after receipt. 

The typical holiday letter has evolved over time.  These days, few people hand-write their cards or hand-address their envelopes.  Slow to adapt, I am starting to see the wisdom of this.  Mailing labels or artificially produced handwriting improves the timeliness and accuracy of mailing. 

There are many commercially designed cards that will print your personal message and address the envelopes.  Online services include

Minted, which creates beautiful, individually designed holiday cards featuring photos and your personal message.  Envelopes are addressed, using a design compatible with the card.  Likewise, Shutterfly produces lovely cards that can include a message and photographs, with a variety of templates to choose from.  Some people create unique and artful cards of their own.

The holiday season can be stressful, simply because this time of year has its attendant pressures.  For many (but not all), there is the self-created wish to find gifts that are just right and meaningful for our loved ones.  Sending out notes and holiday cards also is important, because it is one more way of staying in touch with the people we care about.

Recently, two cards that I sent over the past year came back to me.  One was a holiday card sent to another country in 2022, which was returned eleven months later.  A Father’s Day card sent to the east coast to one of my sons-in-law was returned unopened, four months later.  In both cases, a postal label asserted that the address I used did not exist.  While not true, perhaps it is asking too much to expect machinery to accurately read my handwriting.

Another postal mishap occurred this year when a large, flat rate USPS box was returned to me.  The postal label indicated that the box was returned because nobody had answered the door (no signature was required).  That did not prevent my home mail carrier, months later, from leaving the returned package outside my gate.  (Sometimes it is difficult to love the post office).

Unsolicited mail – pitches for products, requests for donations, etc. – also can be annoying.  Unwanted marketing email solicitations can be deleted by clicking on the unsubscribe link.  But physical mail – the paper kind, is more difficult to avoid.

Paper catalogs proliferate every year.  Do Not Send lists seem to be ineffective.  Years ago, I removed back covers of mailing labels from catalogs that I did not wish to receive, and sent them to the sender’s return address, with a jotted note saying “please remove me from your list.”  This was laborious, but surprisingly effective. 

Many charitable requests come from organizations that I have never donated to, but in some way match my donor preferences.   Non-profits sometimes sell their “lists” to other entities.  Although I will consider the merits of the charity, most of these solicitations go directly into the recycling. 

Another pet peeve:  I will not consider a donation to any organization that has misspelled my name.  Recently, while making a donation in support of a friend, I later discovered that I had accidently mistyped my own name.   It will be interesting to see how many solicitations from other organizations I receive under this incorrect name!

The holiday season can be exciting.  Recently, I visited San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building, created for this port city in 1898.  The inside of the building was jammed, shoppers crowding into the shops selling locally- produced products and food.  Outside, despite a light rain, the Saturday Farmer’s Market was in full swing.  There was a welcome buzz in the air.

Here’s a pitch of my own:  for anyone interested in San Francisco history, John King of the San Francisco Chronicle has written an authoritative and ultimately readable book about the Ferry Building.  Portal:  San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities was recently published by W.H. Norton, copyright 2024.  This would make a great gift!

Once again, it’s that time of year:  the holiday season, with all of its joys and aggravations.  I wish you all the best!

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