It was an expensive card and I had to reorder another batch because I underestimated how many people my husband actually wanted to send the card to.

Tales From the Dark Side of Holiday Cards Returned

By Amy Axelson

“Don’t forget to send Patty’s card to the right address,” said my husband. The Christmas cards had just arrived in the mail an hour before. He had shown little interest in carefully manipulated photos of the children on glossy Costco photo paper. Arguably, I didn’t feel this was the year to invest in Christmas cards, but nonetheless I was proud of the lighthearted image of our children I had created — them in their Halloween costumes next to the Monolith. The kids were finally in bed after a hard day of remote work and school and keeping everyone from killing each other.

We had finally found something on Netflix we all could agree on watching, which is no small feat. I clutched my glass of well deserved wine to prevent it from becoming a projectile. My mother’s face turned white. It was 2020 and after all of it, I didn’t think my husband was going to survive the night.

“Not the Patty card,” my mom said. She fled the living room, abandoning the fireplace, the wine, the Nicolas Cage movie. “I’m marking my calendar!” my mom called out cowering in the kitchen. “It’s Patty Card Day!” My husband had just invoked the end of times.

I’m wasn’t sending the Patty card. He was sending the Patty card. “Just make sure you double check the address,” he casually suggested, just like every…single…goddamn…year.


Patty is a cousin. I first met her at a family picnic in Montauk. My husband and I had just gotten married and I remember her distinctly and vividly telling me that she had a pet chicken. I swear to God, a chicken just walked past us while we were talking. It was completely random, and I still to this day have no idea where this fucking chicken appeared from but it did. There it was, a beautiful, white, fat, fluffy chicken, which seemed to like her and be domesticated. I mean she picked it up and petted it. Sometimes when I recall this event I even remember a leash, but I digress. I obviously wondered out loud where the chicken came from and she told me this long elaborate story. When she was a kid, about 8 years old, she was playing in her backyard. Her puppy had just been hit by a car the day before and she was heartbroken. A beautiful little chick appeared by her fence in her yard and her brother and her brought it inside. The little chick was lost and no one knew where it came from. Her father enjoyed feeding the little chick and grew fond of it. He taught the kids how to feed the chick out of their hands. The father decided they should keep the little chick as a pet. Sometimes they invited it in for dinner. He even trained it to sit at the dinner table. She would walk it just like a dog and take it with her everywhere. She even took it to school. She took it to college with her. This was an extraordinary story and when I saw her a few years later at another family gathering in Long Island, and I asked her how her pet chicken was she looked at me like I was recently released from an asylum. She never had a pet chicken. I realize now that she was hazing me.

During the beginning of my marriage, I had cheerily asked my husband’s mother for the family Christmas card list. She handed me a photocopy of a handwritten list that she had curated over her life. It was an important list and one that I wanted to continue. I wanted to add tradition to our new family. I was honored to be in possession of the list and the responsibility that comes with being the wife who has to keep the family connections alive. Because let’s be real, my husband isn’t doing it. And that’s when it began. “I don’t send cards, but if you want to do it I don’t have a problem,” he said. I have a handful of family members and a healthy list of friends but nothing compared to his family. I was thrilled to have such a social vibrant addition, ready to celebrate, mourn and experience life with the wonderful connections we would have with our Christmas List.

It started out harmless enough. Our first few rounds went smoothly. Everyone was thrilled to get the holiday card with the new baby. He was beautiful. The card doubled as an ornament and had a ribbon around it. It was an expensive card and I had to reorder another batch because I underestimated how many people my husband actually wanted to send the card to. The following year I had another beautiful baby and he was much trickier to get a photo with. He was a few weeks old and my husband insisted that he have his eyes open and potentially smiling in the picture. Yeah. Oh and a photo with all of us together was not an option because my husband was dead set against being in the photo. Fine. No big deal. He was allowed input on the holiday card. I was trying to be patient and flexible. Then in my postpartum recovery from a second C-section in 17 months I composed our second Christmas card. Bleary eyed time spent endlessly photoshopping was finally met with husband’s eye rolling “it’s fine” approval. That’s the year the Christmas Card from Patty came back. She moved. Why didn’t I catch it? I needed to send another one. I didn’t have another one and had to order more at great expense and it didn’t come in time, but I resent it anyway to the new address. That should have been the end of it. It wasn’t.

She got married. What was the husband’s name? No one knew. She moved. My mother in law got a new address. I thought I updated my spreadsheet. The card came back. When we got back from our Disney vacation we took during Christmas, which was glorious and one of the worst mental breakdowns I’ve ever had, my husband checked the mail and when he saw the returned card he was livid. My mother was there when we arrived, and witnessed a bloody screaming battle about “my laziness” and “how could I let this happen again” and “why can’t I be more detail oriented”. It was ugly. “MAIL IT YOURSELF!!!!”, I screamed. I still have vocal damage from the altercation. Perfect ending to a Disney vacation.

And then it just kept happening over and over like a bad case of herpes. The Patty Card. I would mail it and somehow no matter how much I checked or had him email his mother or have her check her list or update my list or get an email that was the latest address…nothing worked. The fucking card kept coming back. Have I ever received a Christmas card from her? Never. Have I seen her since I realized that she gaslit me about a chicken? No. But for whatever reason, my husband is dead set on her getting a fucking card. His cousin in a nursing home who has moved multiple times, I always seem to be able to reach. I can mail things! My girlfriend who moves to a different apartment in Brooklyn every year gets my fucking card. My friends in England receive one annually. But Patty? Not this year Patty. It’s 2020.

You want your card, you come get it your damn self. Bring a shovel.



About the Author

Amy Axelson is a director and writer, known for Why We Wax (2008).

The award winning short documentary which she was co-producer, director and writer on Why We Wax was the darling of the 2007/2008 film festival circuit and played on Current TV. Ms. Axelson has worked on productions in New York and across the country for companies such as Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit, San Francisco Lyric Opera, Pine Mountain Music Festival, New York Chamber Opera and Dicapo Opera.