For someone who appreciates a written message as much as I, there’s simply no excuse for being so lackadaisical about one of our great holiday traditions:
Can’t remember the last time we’ve sent any and, even then, it was the good wife who parceled together a few missives to friends far away.
She did so out of a mix of genuine affection and, yes, a certain degree of guilt played into the chore. Despite being absolute grinches when it comes to sending Yuletime messages, we’ve still managed to not fall off quite a few card lists. We are grateful.
Few things delight as much as an ink-on-paper message and even the relatively new printed photo cards offer a certain flair with holiday theme photos and stylish designs.
Christmas cards have their origins back in the days of Victorian England and were a natural progression from the days when hand-written letters were the primary means of long-distance communication.
The first Christmas card to be sent reportedly wasn’t done so for the same reasons as we would send them today, according to author Alan Paterson, a former resident of England. We send them these days as a way to let people know we’re thinking of them at Christmas time, or as a way of saying “thanks” from a business to its customers. Some use Christmas cards as a way to contact people once a year and write a sometimes lengthy outline of what’s been happening amongst the family over the year.
Paterson says the very first Christmas card was sent around 1843, in England, by a nobleman, Sir Henry Cole, who used hand-painted cards to tell his well-off friends the story of those less fortunate in an attempt to promote charity during the holiday season. It took about 30 years for Christmas cards to catch on in America but, even with the decline of the hand-written letter, Christmas cards are still popular, particularly with new innovations.
Most people still send their cards through the USPS just like always, but many no longer have to go to the store and pick up a box set that a lot of others might buy as well. We get to choose from thousands, and customize them with pictures and personal sentiments. Several friends are showing off their grandchildren in their holiday cards this year, many appearing in beautiful Christmas theme photos on Santa’s lap or wide-eyed in Toyland.
Across our Bible belt, of course, many Christmas cards still carry simple reminders of the real Good News of the holiday: the Savior was born.
Shuffling through the assortment of cards we’ve already received is a warm reminder of friends and loved ones we cherish, some of whom we’ve not seen in much too long. There’s one from an old school buddy featuring his new grandson and his beautiful mother. Another is from my god-daughter, now grown, with beautiful children of her own. Then there’s a warm message from neighbors just down the street. Less than a mile separates us, but too much work and too little time spent being neighborly has kept us apart.
Despite lazy grinches like me, it’s Christmas and that reflection ... too much time apart, may be the most important reason Christmas cards are a tradition most still embrace.
Robert M. Williams Jr. is an Effingham native and publishes weekly newspapers in Blackshear, Alma, Folkston, McRae and Forsyth. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.