Let’s Delete the E-Card

About 10 years ago, my family received a Christmas letter from some friends. You know the kind: 2 pages, 8 point font, photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph dedicated to each one explaining all their successes for the past year. Boy did they have successes. Hell, their dog had a better year than me. And, the letter seemed to imply, the pet was definitely smarter than I was. On the one hand we were happy things were going so well for them. On the other hand, we felt inadequate and began questioning most of the choices we had made in life.

Not really. Mostly, we spent our time making fun of the letter and our perfect friends. Envy might be a sin, but it also promotes wit and humor in the right hands.

We were also inspired to begin writing our own Christmas letter but ours was a little less Norman Rockwell and a little more Chevy Chase. Our first annual letter way back in 2005 set the tone:

“Dear __________ (please write your name here for that “personal” feel):

We all know how impersonal Christmas letters can be, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than calling each and every one of you with a family update. The enclosed photo is proof that our children are still happy and well adjusted. Please disregard any phone calls from the FBI or Child Protective Services. I assure you those are prank calls.”

As you can see, the letter was written back when people 1) used phones to actually talk to people with voices, and 2) had to pay for the minutes necessary. They had this thing called long distance charges. Primitive.

The biggest news of the year for us that year was that my older son cut the tip of his middle  finger off while closing our back door. He spent half the year flipping everyone off. I’m still convinced he kept his finger taped up way longer than necessary. Even better, we (and by me I mean my poor wife) managed to pick up the tip, put it in a baggie with ice, and send the thing with me as I rushed the poor child to the emergency room. I guess we thought they could just duct tape it back on.

Rest assured no one felt insecure after reading our letter. I spread Christmas cheer by letting everyone know their dog probably was smarter than me.

Amazingly enough (or at least amazing to me), we are sending out our 9th annual letter this year. The tone for the last 9 years has remained the same but each year we try to do something different. Two years ago, we included about 20 song lyrics in the letter. This year the letter is riddled with Christmas movie references and every year there is at least one reference to big news stories from the year. (Santa sells data to the NSA–who else knows when you’ve been bad or good? They either have to buy it from him or play World of Warcraft.)

Perhaps even more amazing than 9 years of letters: we are sending an actual letter using honest to god stamps. No e-card or attachments or twitter feeds. We aren’t posting the letter to our Facebook page or Tumblr or Instagram.

And I wish other people wouldn’t either.

I’m no Christmas Card history expert, but I’m pretty sure the first Christmas cards were sent out in the mid 1800s in England and, generally, they were the province of the wealthy. As we entered the industrial age and commercial printing became readily available, the rest of us could send greeting cards relatively cheaply. Such cards offered us a chance to “greet” our friends and let them know we were thinking about them. Even with mass production, cards were special things to receive and many became mementos and archives of Christmas past. It should be noted also that such cards represented a kind of gift, a sense that the sender was thinking about you and yours at this special time and they were treated as such by being placed on the mantle or on the Christmas tree itself.

Try that with your e-card.

I’m no luddite. I understand the speed and efficiency that email and mass posting sites provide (hence the blog), but it also seems to me that speed and efficiency is exactly what we shouldn’t be worried about this time of year. Regardless of our religious or non-religious affiliation, the winter break, that time when we transition from one year into the next, should provide us with a moment to reflect both on the last 365 days but also on the broad range of relationships we have built over the course of time.

Christmas Cards, Season Greetings Cards, Happy Holidays Cards–the words on the card are far less relevant than the sentiment behind the gesture itself. When we get a card in the mail, we know someone took the time to sign the card, address the envelope, and, we hope, reflect for one brief moment on the person who will in 4-6 business days open the card.

Just as importantly, that card or that letter provides each and every person with a tangible, physical artifact, a sense if I may try to wax poetic, of our connection across the space and time of our lives. We renew or at least remember the people we have met and whose lives we have touched. And while there might be plenty of reasons for the season, it seems to me that trip down memory lane is at least one of the most important ones.


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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