The Enduring Power of this Beloved Snail Mail
By Chelsea Vincent
As everyone starts thinking about pie, shopping for lights, and thinking about the upcoming holidays, I find myself booking annual family photo sessions. And as much as that’s a pretty simple thing as a photographer, it brings a smile to my face.
Why? Because it means that holiday cards are still hanging in there.
Today, it feels a bit like digital, impersonal marketing has pervaded everything from our cell phones to our social media channels (looking at you, funnel systems). Or, on the flip side, it’s overly personal (how does my cell phone know I was talking about whiskey sours?).
I get it – everyone wants to disseminate their “knowledge” or product with as many people as possible for as little time as possible. Thus, the evergreen e-courses and robocalls were born.
But every now and then, one object arrives in the mail which instantly reduces me to a five-year-old: a hand-written holiday card.
The sheer joy of seeing human writing, of reading a thoughtful message from someone special, of knowing they set aside the time to manifest this simple act of kindness – it’s lovely. And this, friends, is why holiday cards are not dead. We love the human connection and feeling special, and holiday cards allow us to do both for each other. No matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof, this singular gesture can change moods for the better.
The ability to connect with cards came about fairly recently. Holiday cards became a major part of American culture during the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the industrial revolution was in full swing. (It’s not so shocking that perhaps people then, whose lives had abruptly shifted away from agriculture and centralized extended families, were also missing some of that human connection.)
Methods of production have ranged from engraving to etching to painting, from linoleum cutting (wow) to embroidering to lithography, from macaroni art to finger painting and beyond. Today, whilst most cards are mass-produced in factories – which is ironic, to say the least – there are still some folks who manage to send out original cards. This may cost a few more dollars, but it completes the human connection piece.
Let’s say I want to send my dear friend Claire a card, to let her know she is on my mind this holiday season and to wish her good will. The act of purchasing a card from an artist is an act of good will on my own part. It’s like the concept that “food made with love tastes better.” So, too, do cards bought in that same fashion engender warmth and the triumph of the human spirit.
I was reminded this past summer in Bali that life is so much more than a dollar sign. Many westerners think about money only as a transactional instrument, but it is also a vote of confidence in support of friends and other people in our society. For this reason, I think we are starting to see a shift toward more makers’ goods.
So although your holiday season may be busy with work deadlines, travel, and corralling family members, take time to pause. Pull out some craft paper and paints to make some homemade cards. Or have a get-together with friends and make some holiday cards to send to deployed troops or local firefighters or nursing homes.
If you don’t have a day to make cards, invest a few extra bucks in cards which were made by an individual. Then, set aside a few hours, either with kiddos or simply yourself, to hand-write a few lines to those whom you love. Tell them what’s happening in life that brings you joy, or remind them how much they mean to you.
The truth is that life feels faster and faster. Slowing down to write a holiday card is a gift both to the recipient and to the sender (and it costs almost nothing). Yet when that mailbox opens, it can change the tone of an entire day or week.
Do you remember a favorite holiday card you’ve either received or given? Tell us about it below!