By Dazed81, re-posted under a CC-license
Sending out holiday cards is a favorite Christmas tradition of mine. For almost 20 years, I have gone to some effort to design, print and hand-write notes on the 50-plus holiday cards I typically send out.
That said, holiday cards are starting to seem like an antiquated custom from a pre-digital era. Why go to the trouble of buying/ creating a bunch of printed paper cards, hand-writing notes and signing, addressing and posting them? Why not just do all of this via email? Not only can you send out your message to many more people, it’s instantaneous and it’s less damaging to the environment. (According to ehow.com, 2.65 billion holiday cards are made each year, many of which end up in landfills and dumps around the world.)
The problem is that nothing really replaces the unique
charms of getting a well-thought-out physical card in the mail. No one gets as
excited to receive an e-card in their email in-box, no matter how
For me, holiday cards are my way of re-connecting with important people in my life. They are a way of expressing to far-flung friends and family that they are still important to me in some way and that I am thinking of them. The message I am trying to convey is "I value our relationship and want to re-affirm our connectedness." The explicit hand-written message often refers to some desire or plan to see more of them in the coming year.
That said, I am finding that while I continue to send out around the same number of cards, I tend to receive less and less of them. And the ones I tend to get are the pro forma postcard-type photo cards of loved ones and their families, with some generic greeting on it or a photocopied update letter. ("Jimmy has started to walk. Tina had a ballet recital. I’m taking up pottery." etc.)
Last night at a party, some friends and I were talking about the importance of "ephemera" — the physical evidence of our lives that we leave in our wake. In past generations, people would collect in albums and shoeboxes photos, trinkets, ticket stubs, lockets of hair, matchbooks — anything that might trigger memory and link you to a specific time and place. Now that everything is going digital, what is serving that function? My friend Leslie thought that we were losing the capacity to mark the passage of time with these objects.
On the other hand, as a Quaker, I feel very attracted to the idea of not putting out into the world more transient "stuff." And the reality is that all I get is a momentary warm fuzzy feeling from getting a holiday card, and some small satisfaction from looking at them on my corkboard in the run up to Christmas. But then I file them away and don’t really have any use for them afterwards. Is that transitory feeling enough reason to continue this archaic exercise?
I don’t know. But I value my friends and family enough that I think they are worth this relatively small investment in keeping them in my fold. Maybe next year I will feel differently. Right now, I’ve got 12 more cards to finish preparing to put in the mail.
1 thought on “Holiday cards and other emphemera in the digital age”
I sometimes make handmade one-at-a-time cards too, part of it is I love doing it. I heard an interview on the radio with a guy who makes decorated objects – boxes i think – for people — and he finds to his surprise that they keep them an treasure them. So he has a cabinet full of stuff he collects over the year for the making. Sounds like a possible solution to the ephemera vs the joy of making and giving dilemma.