As I sat engaged in the various tasks of readying Christmas cards for mailing, I began to muse. I weighed how the practice has changed over the years. I noted the number of people I had to cross off my list because they had died. I considered the rising costs of cards and postage. And as my arthritic wrists and fingers protested, I even questioned why we exchange Christmas cards at all.
When I was a kid, I loved to get the mail in the weeks before Christmas to see who had sent us a greeting, what the cards said, and who had to money to send family photos in or as their cards. After everyone in the family had read the cards, Mother placed them along the mantle top over the fireplace in the living room so that any visitors could enjoy them as well. My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, taped them around the door frames in her living room. When that space ran out, she moved to the coffee table and a sideboard along the living room wall and from there to the mantle. (I always assumed that the mantle was the place of last resort because of the dangers inherent in having paper products so close to the always hot Warm Morning coal stove that was in front of it. She kept the room so hot that whenever one stood up, he was in danger of passing out from the heat. Indeed, had a Christmas card fallen onto that stove, it no doubt would have been incinerated in mere moments.)
When I got married and my wife and I began receiving Christmas cards of our own, I instituted Nannie’s practice of taping them around the door jambs. We had neither a mantle nor a stove. But over the years, I’ve noticed that the number of cards we receive has steadily declined. To be perfectly blunt about it, we’re losing friends through Death. In looking through our college alumni newsletter, we now know fewer and fewer people in the “Class Notes” section and more and more in the “With the Lord” column. That’s a sobering thought.
But another reason for the decline in the number of cards we receive is that fewer and fewer people are bothering to send out Christmas cards. Have you seen the price of cards today? I’m not talking about the fancy Hallmark variety that you might buy for a spouse but the common, mass-produced, boxed kinds of cards. Knowing that the price gets higher with each passing year, we tried to “stock up” for this year by buying after-season cards right after Christmas a couple of years ago. But then the store went out of business, and there are no other Christian bookstores in the area. Even buying them online is getting outrageously expensive nowadays. And then you have to add the cost of postage. At 50 cents a card, that adds up really quickly even if your Christmas card list isn’t a mile long!
Some churches have begun providing a “mailing” service within their congregations. Some smaller churches have built banks of “mail boxes,” with every member or regular visitor having a designated slot. Friends bring their cards to church and stick them in the appropriate slots. Other churches provide a large, communal mail box. After everyone has deposited their cards, members of the youth groups sort and deliver them to the appropriate families. This definitely helps defray at least the postal expense of sending cards.
I can foresee that in a few years, when both my wife and I are retired and living on a fixed income that is a fraction of what we’ve become accustomed to living on, we’ll have to cut corners everywhere we can. Although in the big scheme of things financially Christmas card costs aren’t a major item, every little expense counts. When that day comes, I hope all of our friends don’t think we’ve forsaken them. Or that we’ve died and they didn’t know it. When that time comes, I guess we’ll just have to pick up our cell phones (if we can still afford a cell phone!) and call our friends to wish them a Merry Christmas. Actually, that’s not a bad idea! Sort of like telling friends, “Don’t come to my funeral to visit me; visit me while I’m still alive!”
But the thought that really bothers me most is that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find cards that actually say something. Most of the cards on the market are so generic today, the age of political correctness when everyone is so afraid of offending someone by saying something that might be construed as overtly religious, that they don’t really say anything.
- “Happy Holidays.” (What holidays are we celebrating? We might as well substitute a blank line and let the recipient fill in the holiday of choice for the word holiday for all that sentiment says.)
- “May you feel the magic of the season.” (It’s not about feelings; it’s about a Person! And it was a miracle, not magic!)
- “Peace on earth.” (Great. But you can’t have any real peace without the Person that everyone seems afraid to name!)
That’s why, whenever I find a card with an honest-to-goodness message, I buy it in bulk. If Sam’s sold bulk cards with a real message, I, skinflint though I am, would even be tempted to fork over money for a membership!
Despite the cloudy, troubled thoughts I had while getting my Christmas cards out this year, I’ll still send them with the hope that they, as weak as their message might be, coupled with the few words of my own that I’ve added, will convey the real meaning of Christmas and friendship to those who receive them. And I’ll look forward to receiving those that do come to my own mailbox. And I’ll dutifully tape them to our door jambs. Some traditions are worth keeping, even if it is getting harder to do so.