I do not like to be reminded of how far short I fall of qualifying for sainthood, but the Christmas season provides ample evidence of my shortcomings. I got a beautiful Christmas card the other day, with a warm, hand-written note from a friend who has, over the past several years, endured more physical, emotional, and financial hardships than most people are subjected to in a lifetime. Yet she took the time and effort to reach out in a traditional gesture which is rapidly vanishing: real paper cards sent through the regular mail.
I have, I am almost ashamed to say, not mailed a Christmas card in years. I still have several boxes of cards on a shelf in my closet but I increasingly found that I inevitably put off starting to address them until the last minute. Then, considering that I always want to add a personal note (I am not very good at being brief) in each one--which requires the time for me to be sure my handwriting is even remotely legible--by the time I'm ready to mail them, it's too late for them to arrive by Christmas. And while it is niggardly of me to admit, sending 50 cards at 47 cents postage is not cheap.
So I, like exponentially-increasing numbers of other people, have resorted to sending e-mail greetings. On-line card sites like BlueMountain.com offer thousands of quite beautiful cards, most with some form of animation not available on a printed card, and the time normally spent on getting a paper card ready for mailing can be used for adding a personal note on each. There are of course drawbacks to e-cards, primary among them being that e-cards tend to be one-exposure events. They cannot be put on the mantle or a coffee table, and those intended for more than one person may not, by the nature of the confines of the computer monitor, be seen by more than the specific e-mail addressee.
Traditional paper cards also involve the comfortably familiar tradition of opening and reading the card, physically transporting it to be set out with other cards, where it will be seen at least peripherally every time anyone glances at the display. And finally, after Christmas, they will be seen again when they physically picked up to be either packed away or discarded.
That traditional Christmas cards should be joining the dinosaur on the track to extinction is hardly surprising considering the sea-change our entire culture is undergoing. I grew up in a world where the exchange of Christmas cards was part of everyone's social fabric, and you felt a strong obligation, if you got a card from someone to whom you had not already sent one, to get one out the same day.
Of course I was also raised in a world before Political Correctness became the 800 pound gorilla in the room...where the majority--meaning white Anglo-Saxon Christians--had relatively little contact with anyone who wasn't also a white Anglo-Saxon Christian. So of course it was "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." There was, for all practical purposes, no Hannukah, or Kwanzaa (which didn't even exist until 1966). Just Baby Jesus and a manger, and the Three Wise Men. There were no atheists or agnostics--or if there were no one paid any attention to what they might think on the subject.
Not all of what has happened in our changing world is bad, but I fear that rather than freeing us, it seems to have restricted us to the point where we must be concerned with whatever we say, lest we offend someone.
I am a practicing Agnostic, but I find comfort in Santa Claus and the manger, and the star of Bethlehem because they were an integral part of my life. And while I don't send them, I enjoy getting Christmas cards (and calling them that). For I sincerely believe there is an overlapping of the secular and the religious...a zone in which warm memories and sincere good wishes far outweigh political correctness or religion.
So please, if you are kind enough to send me a paper Christmas card, don't be offended if I send you an e-card in return. Just remember that it isn't the method but the message that counts.
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