Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Feeling the Christmas Card Blues

There was a time I recall not that long ago when Christmas cards were sent through regular mail as a way of connecting with friends and family at the end of the year. Besides the obligatory greetings and closings written respectively above and below the printed text on the cards, they usually contained messages apprising the reader about events and happenings during the year gone by, which seemed especially important coming from people who lived far away.

There were those more verbose card senders who would include a folded piece of paper inside the card with a long message covering the year gone by. I remember Mom waiting for these, especially from some of our more colorful relatives, who would describe their annual “adventures” playing bingo, visits to the doctor, trips to exotic locations, disputes with neighbors, and other matters in great and many times humorous detail.

This was, of course, long ago in a galaxy far away without text messages, email, and Facebook. Now it is almost a given that people stay in touch easily, and tidbits like “Sally had a baby” or “Uncle Ralph retired” would not wait to come in a year-end card but in some electronic form of communication throughout the year.

xmas card
These days I am still receiving physical cards, some sent from those far and wide, but sadly for the most part they contain just greetings and closings. I wonder about the year the senders have spent, and would like to know more. Unfortunately, these are people I do not encounter online. I have no idea what has happened since they sent a similar card the year before, and that will continue to be the case in the year ahead.

Maybe these people just choose to live their lives day-in-day-out and prefer for people not to know their business. Of course, they have no obligation to inform me of their ups and downs throughout the year, but I wonder why they even bother sending the card in the first place.

My father passed away a few years ago, but he used to shake his head upon receiving these “no message” Christmas cards. I asked him why he thought people did that, and he said, “They’re checking to see if I still have a pulse.” Dad may have been on to something there, since he would never send a card to someone who hadn’t sent him one first (or had sent one the year before).

I still send out cards every year, but since I have children that means I am in the picture card zone. My wife and I debate about the pictures to select – ones that will attempt to convey a year in our children’s lives – and then we choose three shots, make up the cards at a local CVS, and send them off in an envelope with a printed message and nothing else. A couple of years ago I tried writing messages on the back, but that ruined the images on the front of the card, so I suspended that practice. So obviously I am not part of the solution but part of the problem too.

When I think about the cards we used to receive when I was a child, there must have been at least a hundred of them each year. Dad would take some of his old fishing line and tack it across the dining room wall in rows to hang all the cards to make an enormous and unique decoration. I remember happily thinking that we had so many relatives and friends.

Thus far this season I have received about ten cards – a far cry from days gone by. Most of my older relatives have passed away now, and some have moved away and lost touch. After the older generation was gone, their children didn’t keep up the practice. It saddens me to have lost connections with relatives who, even if they lived far away, had remained part of our lives albeit through the written word.

This year I have received numerous Christmas greetings through email and texts, and the usual warm wishes have been posted on Facebook. These forms of conveying greetings and good wishes are fine, and I have grown used to this as the order of things in the world we live in today.
xmas card2
Still, as I wrap presents and prepare for gatherings with family this Christmas, I listen to songs on the radio, and invariably old Bing Crosby comes on singing “White Christmas” and is dreaming of one with every Christmas card he writes. It inevitably makes me feel sorrow about the long lost practice that, no matter what the distance, seemed to bring people closer together.

With all the instant gratification and immediacy of the technology we have now, something tangible seems to be missing, something I doubt we will ever get back. I feel sad for my children; I feel sad for us all.

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