Making of a Christmas Card, 2020

This year’s card ended up being relatively simple, though it didn’t start that way.

I started work during the weekend after Thanksgiving. My initial thought was that I would start with a picture of snow covered trees at the golf course I’d taken last winter while cross-country skiing:

Ponkapoag Golf Course under snow. Taken while cross-country skiing
Original picture, taken last February

So, I started the whole day to night conversion, converting it to a blue-ish duotone, then adding a couple of gradient layers on top to darken the sky. Then I draped lights over the trees. I was looking for a Boston Common type look:

Scene converted to night, or at least dusk.
Converted image

The problem was, it just wasn’t working for me. The lights weren’t tied properly to the trees, and it all felt very static. They didn’t look like real trees with lights, and the light on the snow wasn’t tied in well. I suppose I could have made it work, but I’ve done this several times before:

(I think the 2008 and 2009 cards worked well, and the 2015 card was a swing and a miss.)

So I decided to start over, and found this image I’d taken with the phone of an ornament on last year’s tree:

Glass Bell ornament
Original picture.

Changes were minimal this time. I darkened down the light, and made it greener, as it was printing a blue. I blurred the background a little to give better separation, made the bell a little more vibrant, and may have sharpened the foreground a little — I don’t remember.

This year, I decided to invite Mum to join me on cards sent to people we both knew. I knew she would want to send out cards to a few people, but I also knew it would be difficult for her. So I set up a card interior with text from both of us. I ended up saying something to the effect that we wished we could see people, but that COVID was making it impossible. For people my mother doesn’t know, I made a separate revision of the text to something more appropriate.

The night before, I printed a bunch of outsides, then put the cards back in the printer and ran off the shared insides, then came downstairs and set up an assembly line in the dining room. I would sign each card, often times with a note, then hand it off to her for signature and sometimes a note.

Overall, I’m pleased with this card, though I think they would have turned out better with different card stock — all Staples had was embossed stock, and it simply doesn’t print as well. Something to remember for next year.

2020 Christmas Card - Glass bell ornament with the words "Merry Christmas"
Finished card

Merry Christmas, everyone.

The Christmas That Isn’t

It’s Christmastime… but it isn’t. Not with COVID it isn’t.

Normally we would have a big family get-together Christmas Eve. Not this year. Last year, we weren’t able to, with Mum in rehab for her strokes. I was really hoping at the beginning of the year that we could have our get-together again this year. Nope. We’re going to have to content ourselves with video calls this year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it in 2021.

We’ve gone up to Rockport most years for the past several years, to shop the stores on Bearskin Neck, and see the decorations. Mum was very fond of the Christmas pageant, because it was a re-enactment of the Nativity. Even if we wanted to take the risk, it’s just not feasible this year.

I’ve gone Christmas shopping every year since I was in college. This year, I ordered a couple of things off Amazon, and that was it. (To be fair, most of this is due to the fact that none of the nephews and nieces are little anymore, and most of my siblings agreed long ago not to do packages.

I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do a tree this year. I’m frankly not feeling it much this year, and I was concerned about laying out the living room — Mum now spends most of the day in her chair in the living room, and whatever I did, I would need to ensure that there was room for the chair and room for her to maneuver with the walker.

Most years, I like to make an occasion of putting up the tree, but not this year. I was also aware that I’d be doing most of the work of putting it up and taking it down. In the end, Mum wanted one, and I realized I did too, so I picked up a relatively narrow tree.

As it happened, there was a gash in the bark about 4 inches from the bottom. We had this a couple of years ago, and ended up with a tree that dried out pretty rapidly, so this year, I made a new cut above the gash, and cut off the lower branches. This had the benefit of making the tree smaller overall — both narrower, and shorter. I was able to use two fewer strings of lights. This meant I was able to skip the older LED lights I’ve been using for the past couple of years. My first set of LED lights were too blue for my taste; eventually, I found a couple of strings of warmer colored LED lights that I like much better. With only the warm LEDs and one string of mini-incandescent lights, this year’s tree is much more pleasing to me. And I was able to fit the angel on the top easily for the first time this year.

Christmas tree and Mum
Christmas tree and Mum

Even though it’s smaller, it’s still a pretty nice tree. And there’s still room for Mum next to it.