The True Meaning of Christmas Cards

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Thumbnail image for Santa's face.gifI sent out Christmas cards by snail mail this year, mainly because I've been living a rather solitary life and felt this was a good time to say hello to old friends who live far away, and also because I was hoping to keep an old, sentimental tradition alive. I used to send out dozens of Christmas cards, and get roughly the same amount back. But for the last couple of years I've been too out of sorts from being unemployed; and conversely, the amount I received trickled off, too.


Of the cards I did receive, they fall into x predictable categories:


The Christmas letter ≈ ah, don't we love to receive Christmas letters? No matter how humbly they're written, they always come off sounding like someone tooting his own horn. That's because the sender isn't writing to you personally, but is sending a mass-produced account of his year. So the letters can't help but sound egocentric. (Take heed, Christmas-letter-writers, of writing about your cruise to the Mediterranean or trip to Nepal when you don't bother to ask "how are you?") They're also saying, "We have so many cards to send that we can't possibly take the time to write a personal note on each one -- sorry!"


The Christmas poem ≈ this is really a subcategory of the Christmas letter, but (poorly) written in verse. It tries to summon the romantic idea of Christmas -- "scents of cinnamon, peppermint and pine; carolers singing of a miracle birth so fine; baking cookies red and green surprise, as people watch with wondering eyes" -- but disintegrates after the first few lines, making you wish the writer didn't even bother. (Just send a card and sign your name, fer chrissake!)


The Christmas photo card ≈ If you don't know the sender that well or haven't seen him in years, you're left wondering, "Who are these people?" So what's meant to be a more personal kind of card turns out to look more like an ad for some kind of apparel.


The Christmas card pretending to be a Hanukkah card ≈ these come from people who have the blind audacity to cross out "merry Christmas" and write "happy holiday" in its place. Don't they realize that if they can't take the time to buy a Hanukkah card that it would be better not to send a card at all?


The business Xmas cards ≈ these are the ones from people who have performed some kind of service for you (financial, veterinary), or to whom you've donated money (charities). They're not really wishing you a Merry Christmas, but rather they're thanking you for supporting them and want to keep the working relationship alive, or they're asking for more money.


Since I'm trying to keep the tradition of sending Christmas cards alive, I'm aware that I should be appreciative of any card I receive, especially those from friends who took the time to write a thoughtful note. The very fact that my friends chose to mail a card the old-fashioned way sends its own message too. The card becomes a keepsake, less likely to be thrown away than a season's greetings email is to be deleted. The illustration is sometimes a precious little work of art, befitting a frame. And because it's tactile, I think that "sends a note" to the brain that you've received something tangible, it's like a gift from the person, sometimes a substitute for a gift if the sender is scraping by.


Whether I send out cards again next year remains to be seen (will I be working and have less time?). I think that if I invest the time, I'll gradually start to see more returns on my investment. It's a notion worth pursuing no matter what kind of card it is.


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