Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Cards, Friends, and Phones

It’s CHRISTMAS CARD season again. Each time I open the mailbox I wonder who will be next. Which couple, man, woman, or long lost compatriot will have put out the effort to address one to us?
They've changed through the years, these cards of greeting and cheer. Once upon a time they were mostly classical – straight up fairy tale. A real tree stood in a corner next to the fire. Above the stone fireplace a re-purposed barn beam offered space for candles and carefully hung stockings. Outside, horse drawn carriages delivered distant relatives home. Children left cookies for Santa.
Next came the whimsical, often lighthearted, non-traditional cards. In them you could feel the move from others to self – from holiday to another day. Colors matched the personalities. Christmas scenes became the sender’s personal hobbies imagined in a snow-covered set. X-mas was a thing.
Along the journey away from the Christmas season and others came another interesting version - the family photo card. Sometimes glossy, yet commonly bordered with festive lace sprinkling glitter, these are the “one year in our life” cards that bring you up to speed on what the senders are doing and how they all look in the current year.
These “yearbook” Christmas cards also served to further my growing disappointment with the season, myself, and society as a whole. Please do not misconstrue my words. It is wonderful to know our friends are well and care enough to send these keepsakes. It is great to receive record of everything going on in their lives. Even better, the mugshots help us recognize them at crosswalks. That’s always nice.
Yet, my disappointment is that we’ve gone from exchanging heartfelt telegrams rich in the season to mass produced family yearbooks displaying mistletoe in a corner to make certain everyone understands it is a Christmas card.
Deeper than that is my curiosity as to what it’s all about. Obviously, if you collected Christmas Cards from the last thirty years you could glean better understanding of the changes in our country than academics using extensive biographical surveys.
Perhaps everyone is so vastly distant we instinctively understand the need for recent family bios. Alternatively, maybe we’ve moved from thinking of others to thinking of ourselves and wrapped it in an envelope to make it deliverable. I suppose there is also a chance people are so long removed from the real Christmas many struggle for a way to celebrate it – unsure of what to do we go to what we know.
There’s also the changing ideas of “friends and family.” That could be to blame. Certainly, the word “friend” isn’t at all what it was a mere decade ago. Where once the word announced “if you mess with them you mess with me.” Today it casually infers the notion, “I may or may not know this person but they put a cool photo online and they hate ____ so we’re friends.”
Years ago a friend was someone who could be trusted to hide the body. Now it is someone who most assuredly will like your social media posts. That leads me to wonder if many feel the vapid nature of this holiday mess and all they’re really trying to do is hold on to friends, real friends, that are too far away for dinner. If so, sharing notes on our lives may be the modern day version of “Hey. Sorry we haven't talked in a while. I've been so busy.”
Ultimately, I believe it is a little bit of everything. Nobody means any harm or arrogance. Our friends certainly don’t. Our lives are busy though, and distant. Society preaches “more is more” while posting “less is more” online. We know what we need and refuse to practice it; somehow believing the most luminous colors, blended, place a magical tint on our lives, when in reality ten of the prettiest colors from across the spectrum, mixed, will give you brown or gray.
A week or ten days ago a friend’s Facebook account was suspended. Being too manly for the masculine police (he likes girls) earned him a one-way ticket to online jail. How do I know this? He called.
Hearing from him was a better gift than countless cards. Although I knew most everything that was going on with our friend from his social media account, hearing the words made them real. Talking to a person made it count and reminded me of all the good memories he is part of. The same would go for the others.
Am I really the only one who feels this way?
Fifteen years ago I quit calling friends at Christmas. One hectic day the calls interfered with the things that fill each square on the calendar and I thought to myself, “Why am I calling these people? They never call me,” and I never did it again. I had always assumed that if they went to the trouble to send cards at Christmas they would be someone who would like to catch up “live.” That wasn’t the case.
Many still send cards but never call. Why?
Understandably, not every card is from a heartfelt friend. I myself have sent Christmas Cards to people who don’t fit the “hide the bodies” definition of friendship, yet having done me a great favor, or written something demanding of recognition, I used the occasion to express thanks and Merry Christmas. Some cards are family to family. These keep everyone in the loop, generally. These best fit the definition of “Hello” cards. Additionally, we all get the friendly card from an acquaintance in sales.
Put to a point, not every card comes from someone who laughed at you from the other side of the bars, shared the hobby of explosives built for fun, not terrorism, and who could still describe how incapacitated you were when your best friend died. Many, though, do. Each time those arrive I think of how nice it would be to talk to them and share a laugh. Heck, being on their list is nice. Real words would be memorable.
Again, please don't get me wrong. I am not angry or upset with these people, senders of cards. To the contrary, I am glad for the season as it delivers their words. Ultimately though, I’d love to have a Christmas filled with their voices instead of the symbols.

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