Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Devotional 2: Gratitude for an Anachronism

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.”

Anachronistic? Really?

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! 


  1. I pop over to this blog occasionally from your Simplicity blog so needless to say I'm writing this comment from the point of view of a card-maker. I love making cards, especially Christmas ones, and happily send them to people even if those people don't send me a card. Most of them seem to love the handmade cards (or else they're very accomplished liars). And my mother and sisters have asked me to make their Christmas cards for them so that gives me more scope. As for receiving cards - I love it. Nothing is more fun than having cards in the mailbox to open. I turned 60 (gasp!) in November and received more birthday cards than usual - it gave me great pleasure, more so than gifts. "It's the thought that counts" might be a hackneyed old expression, but it rings true for me. I don't need more stuff, but I do love to know people are thinking of me. The emails, Facebook posts, etc. at least let me know people are thinking of me, but real tangible cards mean so much more.

  2. I haven't even started on making my Christmas cards (or Happy Holiday cards...New year? Maybe Easter). BUT!! Anyhoos!! I don't know if family and friends appreciate them. I really don't care. I know I love that "yearly" connection with friends/family with whom I haven't kept up with like I should (yes. I am the last person on this planet who does not do twitter, FB, whatever. I'm barely in the blogging world!!)

    I like the idea of connecting in the "old fashioned" way. With pen and paper. Sitting down to write a quick note vs sending out a tweet or email. Not that I would scoff at receiving those. I'm to the point that I think in our hurried lives, taking the time to connect with others in what ever way works best for you is important.

    And with that, I'm off to see what card ideas come to my holiday stressed brain.

  3. I love cards - both sent and received. Although the fb, emails etc messages are instantaneous, nothing beats having a tangible message in one's hand, that one can read over and savour. Even my technology instant daughter is loving receiving cards while she is away studying . . . the joy of finding real in her postbox.

    So I'll keep sending, and hope to keep receiving.

  4. What a fantastic reminder to appreciate the little things in life, Susan! The other day I was sitting back thinking about what I was going to give to the teachers of my children this year (here in Aus it is the end of the school year and summer holiday break as well as Christmas holidays - a very busy time of year!).
    I ended up making a little box of cards for them and the kids wrote down why they liked their teacher and together we made some coconut ice.. nothing special or fancy or expensive. When I took them in, I made a point of looking them in the eye and thanking them earnestly for a great year.
    I found it interesting that a few days later, both the teachers told me that they treasured the 'gifts' we gave - apparently not many people these days take the time to stop and thank them as such but rather perhaps feel that the gifts they bestow do all the talking. To slow down a little during this fast-paced time of year is challenging but this is what I plan on doing more of this year - simple communicating!

  5. I was really upset by that column in "Real Simple". Guess we can scratch her from our list:). I love making cards to send and Christmas ones ARE time consuming but such fun to make. It's part of preparation for Christmas. And I love receiving cards anytime of year, but catching up with friends and relatives far away is a great part of Christmas cheer.

  6. I'll be sending out or handing out about 80 handmade Christmas cards this year. Sending cards (and receiving them) is one of my favorite things to do during the holidays. I like hanging up the cards I receive. I still send Christmas cards to people because I care about them or want them to know I'm thinking of them. Even before I started making my own about 7 years ago, I used to spend a long time surveying the different cards in stores before buying just the "right" card that conveyed what I wanted to express that year.

    I like Facebook for most birthday wishes, but I still send physical cards to my closest family and friends.

  7. ooh!
    love making christmas cards. i actually make a tag that can be hung on the tree so that it isn't thrown away. such fun!
    we have lived around the country over the past 30 yrs, and have friends and family scattered near and far. christmas is the perfect time to connect with those folks who are good friends, but whom we don't see in person.

    thanks for your insights and inspiration, and for always offering such a special place for me to visit every day. please know that you are much appreciated, susan!

    marty ferraro

  8. I send Handmade cards to friends and family, and mine always say "Merry Christmas", NOT "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings". I love getting cards in the mail, it's so nice to open somethng that isn't a bill or junk mail! Even though I see my immediate family in person, I still mail them their cards so they get to open something nice for a change too. I never keep track of who sends me cards, many of my frinds do the electronic greeting now, but I still mail them a card. I just feel good sending them, and I feel good getting them so I assume others do to. Also, I need a reason to justify my paper hobby :)

    Merry Christmas Susan! (I'd send you a card but I don't have your address.) Thank you for your posts here which always make me think. And thank you for your posts on your other blogs as well. You have a lovely family and your stories are often very entertaining. May the new year bring you only good things!

  9. You mean people don't want to hear about my kids and their rainbow farts?! Say it isn't so!

    How about burping glitter, is that acceptable? Because that could actually happen. You've seen those giant containers of glitter that Martha Stewart sells.

  10. LOL, Nicole!!! Glitter burps! Actually, I think it would be fun to write a Christmas newsletter that's totally over the top like that as a joke. Would have to be careful to whom I sent it, however!


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!