People with Asperger Syndrome— Aspies— have a great deal of difficulty with social interactions. That is, with making friends, and maintaining friendships and other social relationships that already exist. Sometimes it seems that the rest of the world is playing by a social-interaction rulebook that we Aspies aren’t allowed to read!
At ‘this time of year’, one easy social interaction that even Aspies can easily get right is the Christmas card custom. Yet many of us, perhaps out of poverty, haven’t kept up with the Christmas card habit. But it’s a great way to let other people know that we like them, that we are not indifferent to them, that we want to keep up the social relationship.
Here are some hints to doing Christmas cards:
- Christmas Card List: Who should you send cards to? Family members, for one thing. Close family members must make the list. If you have cousins you don’t see every year, send to them if you want to keep up that relationship. Send cards to your friends, even if they are the kind of friends who think of you as just an acquaintance. Send cards to people like your therapist, your pastor, and the guy you buy your hay from. It’s OK to send cards to almost anyone you know in the sense of ‘have actually talked to on several occasions’. Pen pals are also OK. If there are people you’d like to be friends with, or ‘more than friends’ with, and you have never actually talked to them and are not sure they even know your name, don’t send a card. You are really only a stranger to that person, and Christmas cards from strangers can be seen as strange, or even creepy. Don’t be that guy.
- The Cards: ideally should be relatively ‘normal’. Something like the ones other people send. Don’t send cards in Chinese to people who don’t speak Chinese (especially if you don’t either). And remember Christmas is a Christian holiday. It’s okay to send ‘Happy Holidays’ cards if you are not Christian, but please avoid creating your own angry-atheist holiday cards with a pro-atheism message inside. Whether you agree with that or not, the social rule is that this isn’t appropriate in Christian cards. Hard-sell evangelism messages also violate the social rules about Christmas cards, though cards with Bible verses and gentle Christian messages are tolerated in most circles from Christian senders.
- Hanukkah Cards: If you are Jewish, why not send out Hanukkah greetings to everyone on your list? As a Christian, I can assure you, I would love to receive a Hanukkah card! It would not offend in the least. If you are worried, write ‘Merry Christmas’ inside cards for non-Jewish recipients.
- Signing the card: you can just sign (or print) your name. Some people have the name printed on their cards, but signing it yourself shows that you care. You can also add a greeting of up to, say, five words before the signature. Such as: ‘Sincerely, Nissa Annakindt’ or ‘Love, Nissa Annakindt’ or ‘May God bless you and yours, Nissa Annakindt’. This is OK in a Christmas card to any person on your list.
- Signing cards to close family members and friends: when you are signing the card to your mother or to a best friend you see every day— people you have a very close relationship with— you can add a bit longer greeting to your card-signing. Up to three sentences, say, of friendly greetings. Like: ‘Dear Uncle Odo, It was great seeing you at Thanksgiving. I hope your hip is better. Have a happy Christmas.’ Don’t mention sad things like Uncle Odo’s son being arrested again, or overly personal things— remember that anything you write in a Christmas card should be things it is OK for the recipient to show to other people.
- The Christmas card letter: there is a custom of sending out a mass produced Christmas card letter each year. This can be a problem for Aspies as we may have difficulty figuring out what to write that is appropriate. My advice is to skip it for now. If for some reason you feel you need to do it, read other people’s Christmas letters, and get a normal (‘neurotypical’) person to read over your letter to see if it falls within the social rules for Christmas card letters.
- Enclosures: Some people send a family picture out, or even a picture of their pets. Religious people might send a religious bookmark or a holy card if it is of general interest. Don’t send religious tracts or political pamphlets to your list, this breaks a social rule of Christmas card sending. (There may be gentle religious tracts aimed at Christmas card season that are not intense enough to be rule-breakers, but even those may offend.)
- Reciprocity: The social rule is that if a person sends you a Christmas card, it is polite to add them to your Christmas card list. If they don’t send you, and if they didn’t omit it for health reasons, it’s OK to cut them from your list if you like. (Lonely elderly people who can no longer write Christmas cards any more might be looking forward to your card— visit or call them as well if you can.) If your relationship to someone you added to your list is not very close, and they don’t send you a card back, perhaps it’s best to cut them from your list. If you want to not exchange Christmas cards with a certain person— your neighbor from when you were in fifth grade that you haven’t seen since— just don’t send them a card this year.
So, those are my rules for Christmas card sending for Aspies. Because, as an Aspie, I don’t always send off the right non-verbal clues that I like people and want to be around them, sending out cards may, I hope, let people know that I really do value the relationship.
Are you an Aspie? What experiences have you had sending out Christmas cards? Did you send cards out this year?
Are you a non-Aspie? Have you ever had trouble figuring out some of the social rules regarding Christmas card sending? Do you think sending Christmas cards is a good way to keep up with family and friends?