As fall transforms quietly into winter we begin the work of the holidays. In 2017, this included purchasing 1.6 billion greeting cards, many of which included a photograph, or rather, the annual photograph of a family. Like much of the holidays, the work occurs quietly behind the scenes only to be revealed in a flourish of snail mail between Christmas and New Years. And it begs the question: why do we participate in this tradition of creating, sharing and collecting family photos via holiday cards?
According to Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo this “work of kinship” took hold amid postbellum industrialization because the demise of the family farm meant women were tasked with the challenge of nurturing (newly) long distance relationships. I know the cards we’ll mail this year will, almost exclusively, land across the country in the mailboxes of people we wish we lived closer to. I secretly hope the cards will linger around the households of our loved ones, reminding them we exist, a placeholder for our presence, and a small token of our affection across a vast country.