Stop, before you send out the wrong holiday card!

Because WNCC's finals week always hits with deadly urgency the week before Christmas - oops, I mean "winter break" - each year, I feel like a dying kokanee salmon swimming its last few yards to a suffocating death. This year, I was determined to finish reading finals early to give myself plenty of time to leisurely prepare for the holiday.

I finished up most of my end-of-semester duties by 5 a.m. Monday (yes, I said "a.m."), so that I would have six entire days to shop for gifts, bake goodies, maybe even fit in a few Christmas visits - oops, I mean "holiday visits." I even had time to send Christmas cards - oops again. Make that "seasonal good wishes cards."

So Monday morning, bright and early, I announced to my husband, Ron, that this year, come hell or high water, we were going to enjoy a cozy morning at the kitchen table writing seasonal good wishes cards.

Always willing to help, Ron volunteered to address the envelopes (since he retired, he knows he has no excuses anymore). I made coffee, cleared the kitchen table, gave our patient dog a new rawhide chew to work on, asked the cat for permission to sit on her chair, gathered a few good pens, and placed the seasonal good wishes cards in stacks according to categories of political correctness.

Our address list before us, we began remembering friends and family, laughing about years past when the kids would "help" us by licking and sticking the stamps. Then Ron reached for a card.

"Wait!" I cried. "Who are you writing that one to?"

He stopped, hand in mid-air. "I don't know," he answered innocently. "Just whoever is first on the list."

"That's a Journey of the Magi card," I told him. "It says 'Christmas Greetings,' so it's for Catholics and other Christians."

I pointed to the various stacks of cards. "The ones with the single snowman say 'Holiday Greetings.' We can send those to people with no known religion," I said. Ron reached for a snowman card.

"Nope," I said. "See the difference? That stack has snow people - for our friends who are sensitive to gender bias. And these," I said, pointing to cards with snow people in a forest of pines, "are for our environmentalist friends who object to cutting down Christmas - I mean, holiday - trees." Ron reached for a card trimmed in gold with a lovely white dove.

"Be careful," I said. "Don't send that one to our hawkish friends who want us to stay in Iraq. They might think we're trying to politicize the holiday by sending them a subtle anti-war message."

Ron replaced the dove card and looked at me with a face that can only be described as incredulous, with a touch of you've got to be kidding.

He glanced at the clock. "At this rate, we'll finish our Christmas cards in 2006."

"Holiday cards," I corrected. "And where's your holiday spirit? Maybe you should just work on one stack at a time, like this one for our Christian friends with Jewish spouses," I suggested.

"Let me guess," Ron said. "Would they be these cards with an abstract holiday tree on the front?" He opened one and read, "Like delicate ornaments kept year after year, our hearts save memories."

"Very good try," I said, trying to be encouraging. "However, those cards are for our friends who like the trappings of the old-fashioned holiday that starts with a 'C,' but who don't really celebrate the reason for, you know, the season."

Ron tapped a stack of cards that showed a glowing row of candles. "Even I know this one," he said confidently. "These are for our Jewish friends who celebrate Hanukkah." He smartly flipped open the address book and chose a festive red pen.

I smiled. "Sorry. But I'll give you a hint," I said. "Don't read the inside of the card yet. Count the candles."

He counted seven. "Hmm," he mumbled. "I give up."

I shook my head. "Haven't you heard the saying, 'Seven candles for Kwanzaa'? Here is the stack of cards for Hanukkah. See? Eight candles plus one to light them." I moved the Hanukkah cards to the other side of the table. "Don't get them mixed up," I warned. "We don't want to offend anyone."

"This is tricky," Ron said. "Maybe we should play it safe this year and not send any cards at all."

We were quiet for a moment as the absurdity sunk in. Ron reached for another of Mom's fragrant pizzelles and Bing Crosby's "I'll be Home for Christmas" filled the house with memories. We both reached for the Journey of the Magi card stack and began writing our Christmas cards.

n Marilee Swirczek lives and works in Carson City. She and Ron wish everyone peace and many blessings in the New Year.


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