O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118:1
While reading the Modern Manners column in December’s Real Simple magazine, I encountered this paragraph by Michelle Slatalla:
“Here we are, a nation of people throwing out our old fax machines and canceling landline phones. And yet we cling to the anachronistic tradition of sending holiday cards.”
Lots of people think so. And the arguments they muster against sending greeting cards are both impressive and persuasive.
“Who has time to send cards? It’s just one more thing to do and I have too much to do already!”
“It’s easier and cheaper to send an email. Or maybe I’ll just tweet my greetings this year.”
“Greeting cards are a waste of paper. Think of the trees we’d save if we did away with them.”
“Most of my friends don’t send them so why should I?”
“It’s all a scam by the greeting card industry.”
“It’s so boring!”
In addition to complaints about sending cards, there are the complaints receiving them.
“Why are Sally’s Christmas letters so full of bragging? You’d think her kids farted rainbows.”
“Why does Uncle Joe bother? His cards are always cheap and tacky.”
“Jane always tries to one-up us with her ostentatious cards. She’s such a show-off!”
“Oh, great. Cousin Ethel sent us a Christmas card. Now we have to send her one. Will she just give it up?”
“So-and-so just uploads her address book to Snapfish and clicks a button to send her cards. It’s so impersonal!”
Finally, there’s the relieved celebration involved when someone fails to send a card and you feel perfectly justified in striking them from next year’s list.
I confess that I am seriously guilty of a number of these negative thoughts about Christmas cards, though in the last eight years, since I started making my own cards, I’ve shed most (perhaps not all) of them. Of course, there are a whole host of complaints about receiving handmade cards, too. Some recipients equate handmade with cheap (so absolutely NOT true). Most handmade cards are smaller than store-bought, and small is also equated with cheap (again, so absolutely NOT true).
Plenty of paper crafters who make cards also hear comments like “You must have a lot of time on your hands!” As you can imagine, they often strike such insensitive people from their handmade card lists and just send them a token—and cheap—store-bought card or nothing at all.
Why waste the handmade effort on someone who doesn’t appreciate it?
The custom of sending greeting cards is pretty old: thousands of years old, in fact. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians exchanged slips of paper and papyrus greetings in demonstrations of goodwill and friendship. In Europe, as early as 1400, when paper was becoming widely available, handmade and woodblock-printed cards were exchanged among the rich and literate. Efficient and inexpensive printing technology developed in the Victorian period allowed greeting cards to become affordable and widely available.
In our high-tech, fast-paced culture, we’re quick to shed the old-fashioned ways of doing things in favor of high-tech, fast-paced ways. What’s the point of keeping a tradition that’s quaint and wasteful and expensive and time-consuming and will just end up not being appreciated anyway?
Gabriel J. Adams offers the best argument possible in favor of greeting cards in general. “Greeting cards have evolved from an item used only by the rich to an everyday tradition. Whether you want to communicate with far-off relatives, or just let your sweetie know how much you love them—greeting cards make a great (and inexpensive) way to brighten up someone's day!”
Sounds like an advertisement for Hallmark, doesn’t it? Yet it’s absolutely right. How happy are you when you see a greeting card in the mail, amidst bills and marketing pieces? Is that happiness an anachronism? Someone thought about you, took time to pick (or make) a card for you, signed it, addressed it, put a stamp on it, and mailed it. When you look at them this way, greeting cards are a tangible representation that someone loves you and cares about you. With our families and friends scattered all over the globe, taking time—making time—to show goodwill to our loved ones is especially important.
Most of the arguments against Christmas cards share a common flaw: they are self-centered and ungrateful. We’re inconvenienced, made poorer, or feel slighted or obligated or harassed or bored. We concentrate on what we get out of sending them and decide it’s not enough to justify the expense. We don’t get good value for our dollar.
Perhaps it might be better to think about the whole Christmas card issue a bit differently.
Even if the ancient Egyptians were sending their papyrus slips at the time, greeting cards are not mentioned in the Bible, but the Christmas story in Luke does provide good justification for them. Poor shepherds got the good news of Jesus' birth first.
And, lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord….” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
After the shepherds visited Jesus, they left and told others the good news of great joy. They shared their joy, spread it around. They weren’t wondering what they would get out of it. They weren’t expecting anything in return for their good news. They weren’t keeping a list of whom they told and who made them joyful in return. They just shared the good will that had been shared with them.
They were thankful and felt compelled to pass it on.
If we, as Christians, are filled with the good will and gratitude of Christmas, we will be more like the shepherds. We will share the good news of great joy without reservation. We know that God is love, that He sent Jesus to give us a new commandment, more important than any other: to love one another. One way to love is to stay connected, to reach out and touch someone far away or close to home, and to say, simply, "Merry Christmas."
How we do this is irrelevant. The phone, e-cards, e-mails, tweets, and Facebook posts certainly get the job done, as does a cheerful "Merry Christmas!" shouted out in person. I'm certainly grateful for all my Merry Christmases, however they come. But for me, anachronistic greeting cards, with their long tradition and the gift of time spent sending them, will always stand out as a tangible and meaningful expression of that love.
How do you plan to share your Merry Christmases this year with gratitude and good will? Please share in the comments!