I'm a techno guy. I've got an iPhone, MacBook Pro, Roku, and Apple TV. Plus two blogs and Facebook/Twitter accounts. But today I mailed the last of my Christmas cards. Yes, mailed.
As in where you pick up a card and envelope from a box, write your name and maybe some personal thoughts on the card, fold over a photo-filled Holiday Letter that you and your wife composed, place it inside the card, put the card inside the envelope, seal the envelope with a lick of your tongue, write the address of the person you're sending it to as legibly as your horrible penmanship allows, afix a Christmas-themed stamp to the upper right corner of the envelope, and place a return address label that a non-profit organization has sent you for this purpose in the upper left corner.
(Note: thank you, non-profit, for saying "Brian and Laurel HInes" on the labels; I'm still recovering from the trauma suffered to my male ego, when, a few years ago, we used labels that said "Mr. and Mrs. Laurel HInes".)
We seem to be getting fewer and fewer mailed Christmas cards with every passing holiday season. Emailed greetings are becoming more common. I'm not opposed to this. Reaching out and touching someone is a good thing to do, whether via a computer screen or paper.
I simply enjoy sitting down at our dining room table and doing as my grandmother did, as my mother did, as my daughter does, and, probably, as my granddaughter won't do. By the time she's old enough to send out Christmas greetings of her own (she's four now), I suspect mailed cards will seem as archaic to her as notes delivered by carrier pigeon seem to me.
My heart says "that'll be a loss." However, what matters a lot to one generation often becomes a what's the big deal with that? to a following generation.
Us baby-boomers grew up in a more tactile communication world.
Lifting a card out of the mailbox; opening the flap with a fingernail; unfolding the greeting with your hands; feeling the weight and texture of the paper; observing the marks on the card made by a pen held by a friend, relative, or loved one -- a text message, tweet, Facebook update, or email may convey the same information as a mailed card, but these just aren't the same.
Not even close.
At least, not for someone like me who has enjoyed getting and sending real Christmas cards for most of his sixty-three years (my babyhood and early childhood are either a blur or a blank to me).
Part of the allure of my habitual Christmas-card-sending ritual feels akin to the farewell scene that has taken place on the last show of most Survivor (reality TV) seasons -- where the three people who have managed to avoid being "voted off the island" pay homage to those who are no longer with them.
In my case, some of the people I thought of while addressing my cards are dead. When I send a card to a high school classmate, I think of two good childhood friends who were part of my life since first grade. They aren't any more, having died too soon. But they're alive in my memories, stimulated when I write out my home town, "Three Rivers," as I address a Christmas card.
Clicking on an email group wouldn't be the same.
I wouldn't remember that somewhere within that group is the zip code 93271, my mother's zip code for so many years. I wrote it on many letters to her after I left home. Picking up a pen and writing it on an envelope today felt so familiar. I only do it once a year now, when I mail a Christmas card to a woman nearly my age who, as a young girl, was our next door neighbor and now lives in her family home.
I picture her as she was while going through the motions of preparing the card for mailing. In my mind she hasn't aged a bit, because I haven't seen her in person for so long. At that moment nothing has changed: she's still six years old; I'm sixteen; my mother is alive. I'm sending a message to zip code 93271.
I know none of this is true. Yet in a way, it is.
That's part of the magic of a mailed, hand-addressed Christmas card. Perhaps I'll fall under the sway of purely electronic holiday greetings someday, but that day isn't now. I hope it won't be ever.