The Short Version: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a display of blank greeting cards at the local Christian bookstore. Some people love them, but most people would never consider having to write their own thoughts. It occurred to me that at Christmas, Valentines Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries, I have basically been paying strangers to tell my wife I love her.
This doesn’t include cards I’ve sent to our kids, my parents, and others. The costs alone are probably staggering if I add it all up, and eventually the cards are thrown away.
Some Background: For years I’ve known a guy who owns a greeting card store. We were talking a long time ago about the evolution of gift wrapping and he shared this chronology:
- People would wrap a gift in fancy wrapping paper and then tie it with a ribbon which would form a bow on top.
- Then people started skipping the ribbon and bow.
- Next, the gift bag arrived. No wrapping at this stage, you simply toss the gift in the bag and add a bit of tissue paper.
- Then the gift itself ended. Instead, people purchased gift certificates and gift cards for a store the recipient would like, and placed that in a greeting card.
- Finally, the gift card was replaced with an electronic substitute, sent by email.
How it Relates to Cards: It got me thinking about the cards themselves. Here’s my conjecture as to a possible sequence:
- At one time, I’m sure people wrote more letters than we do today. People kept boxes of stationery in their homes and penmanship mattered. Some of these letters might run several pages — admittedly smaller format paper — and were kept and treasured by the ones who received them. Frequent writers dabbled in calligraphy, and people knew how to spell and compose a proper sentence.
- Wikipedia traces the history of the greeting card — known to the Chinese in the 15th century — to its genesis in the 1850s. The introduction of postage stamps was a key factor.
- By the late 1990s, the demise of greeting cards was said to be imminent, with the e-card replacing the need to mail a physical product. But when is the last time you got an e-card?
- At the same time, some people were producing cards on their computers, which allowed them to possibly format a more personal message. This tied in with the scrap-booking trend, where people were making cards from scratch.
- In 2016, Millennials are less likely to send cards, or even see the importance of them, unless a great aunt happens to send one containing money. Here in Canada, postal rates have skyrocketed over the last few decades. Sadly the tradition of sending thank-you notes (i.e. to the great aunt) has also diminished greatly.
Blank Cards: Again, I can’t overstate what I see as the value in blank cards. The idea of writing something from the heart and not relying on what someone, sitting at a desk at a greeting card company office wrote.
In the Christian field, I continue to be appalled at what is offered by the dominant card company, Dayspring. Their texts seem to me as too flippant, too cute, and usually quite irrelevant. It never ceases to amaze me how they continue to rule this particular market in North American Christian stores.
It also occurs to me that with greeting cards in general, unless you add at least three sentences of your own at the bottom, you are basically outsourcing your expression of love, gratitude or respect.
Admittedly, sometimes it is hard to find the words. Sympathy cards are always needed because you want to do something, but don’t always know what to say. But even there, I think even a half-literate person could take a blank card and write down a memory they have of the person who had died. Imagine yourself asked to say something at a funeral or memorial and commit it to writing; to print.
Also, it needs to be said that many today in North America don’t know how to spell or write. Computers and phones are contributing to the de-evolution of the English language. So people avoid the possibility of disaster by letting someone else do the heavy lifting.
Why I Will Continue to Purchase Cards: All this said, I think that the effort of going to a store and selecting a card means something to my wife. The absence of a card would be noted. It’s one of the things we do when we love someone. Sometimes there are flowers, and they don’t last much more than a week, but it reminds her (and me) that I took the time, that I was thinking about her, and that I didn’t mind spending the money to show my love.
Cards and flowers represent terrible financial stewardship. In our economic situation, we can ill-afford to do this. But so is an expensive meal in a nice restaurant, and every once in awhile, you need to do these things. You do it just because.
However, I will continue to try to insert my own thoughts into the card. I really don’t want to outsource my expression of love; I don’t want to pay some stranger to tell my wife I love her.