by Carrie Kirk
The envelopes trickle in slowly. The first week of December, our household may receive two or three, probably the ones from businesses or nonprofits who have a very organized and well-functioning marketing department. Then December's second week rolls around and a few more -- this time from families we know -- arrive, and I know then that the holidays are here and in full swing. The season of good tidings and great joy are upon us, and an assortment of Christmas or the more fashionable "Holiday" cards enter our households. I wonder about these unintentional cards' intent, though. Is it one of good tidings and great joy? Or is it a study just waiting to happen, similar to the various ones centered around Facebook and how it can make us unhappy if used in a certain way?
Long before Shutterfly or the Target aisle where so many boxes of cards are now offered, the first Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. The central illustrated picture showed three generations of a family raising a toast to the card's recipient and on either side of them were scenes of charity with food and clothing being given to the poor.
The lithograph firm Prang and Mayer began creating greeting cards for the consumer in 1873 for our English friends and then they crossed the pond to offer the same to us in 1874. I could give you the full-blown history of how Louis Prang is sometimes called the "father of the American Christmas card," how cheap imitations drove him from the market, the subsequent surge of the postcard and then the 1920s rally of cards returning with envelopes but eh ... the question is where are we now when it comes to the Christmas card?
Since I'm no psychologist and this is a blog and not an academic paper, I can't answer that question. I could broadly sweep everything I believe in one category and declare what I think to be true for not only me but for you also. But I won't do that to you. Instead, I will tell you where I am when it comes to these cards and what my thoughts are. Much like some of the presents you will open throughout the season, you can elect to accept my thoughts with a grimace or a smile or just ask for a full refund. It's all good (tidings).
We can now enter through any Walgreens, Costco or other large automatic door and create a holiday card that wishes all a happy 2015 while highlighting how wonderful 2014 was for us. We can do that without even leaving our couch by virtue of a download and an upload and a couple clicks on the keyboard. I have to admit that at times I cringe when I open the cards with the heavy card stock, the professional photos, the smiles on all the faces. For me, it becomes a little like what researchers have discovered when studying the good and bad of Facebook usage. Psychologist Samuel Gosling said that Facebook is used for lots of different things, and that different people use it for different subsets of those things. When we interact with it -- posting on walls, "liking" something, or messaging -- we connect and are happier. Yet, the more time we spend just browsing the site as opposed to creating content and engaging with other users, the less happy we become, replacing it with envy. It seems that we want to learn about other people and have them learn about us but often times that learning process generates resentment about lives of other people. It looks easy. It seems happy. Is it that perfect?
My immediate and extended family have always done what I believe to be very creative holiday cards. Often they include photos of new additions to the family like babies and dogs (sometimes not in that order), a serious gesture to a tragedy (9/11 in 2001) or significant moment in our family (my father's death in 2002), a joke, a pun, a nod to a cultural moment ("You're Hired!"). I look back on these cards and wonder if any of them made someone envious or sad about where they were in their own life. For us, it was documenting the people and times that made that year for us. Life wasn't easy. It wasn't always happy and it certainly wasn't perfect. But we were sure lucky. And as our family has moved through time, we have experienced loved ones leaving us and life getting a bit more challenging. But I like that we can look back on this time in all of our lives by way of these cards. It was an attempt to connect our home to another, all with good tidings and great joy. And so that is how I choose to embrace the lovely cards with the lovely families our household receives this season. It is simply a message of Happy Holidays ... from our home to yours. And from my blog post to our appreciated SBW readers, I wish you a gentle 2015. May you LIKE and SHARE good tidings and great joy throughout the year.