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What Do My Annual Holiday Cards Reveal About Our Time?


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Against all odds in the 21st century, I still like paper: newspapers, books, catalogs, postcards and brochures — all manner of ephemera.

So at the holidays I get high on Christmas cards. These get displayed stuck between books on shelving in my living room and in the dining room, too. What can I say? I like books. By displaying the cards I can enjoy them throughout the season. The cards face out or stare me down — in the case of the family group photos — as I move about the house. It's like having friends and family all in the house for a continuous party. Most of the cards are beautiful, some handmade and, knowing my friends, probably were given careful thought when selected.

Card sending is definitely a generational thing — an older generational thing — and so I treasure them all the more. I've never checked industry sales, but Christmas cards must be headed toward obsolescence. Of the some 100 cards I received this season, only two or three were from former high school or college students I've taught over the years. The point — millennials don't send them.

After I took down the tree and cleared out other decorations last week, the cards came off the bookshelves. But a thought occurred to me: If historians, archeologists and travelers to the ends of the earth to see ephemera that sheds a light on a particular culture at a particular time, what do the 2017 holiday cards reveal about our own time?

Based on a cursory survey of 100 cards there's no sense that folks are in a materialistic mood, despite a new president who basks in the mantra of more is more. I didn't receive a single card of bright paper packages tied up in string or a single image of a stocking brimming with loot. The only card with an automobile was a modest Volkswagen bug, with a Christmas tree attached to the roof headed for decoration. It was from a Los Angelino, so that's OK.

More than a quarter of the cards were a combination of personal greetings and family photos, many of which introduced me to a new child or grandchild. The lengthier newsletters made me roll my eyes, but I devoured every word.

Second to custom personal greetings and photos — a surprising 10 percent — were cards featuring birds. And I'm not taking partridges in pear trees, these were birds in nature. And if offspring are among the most prized subject in the first place category, can the family dog be far behind? Images of canines were third most popular imagery coming in at 8 percent and tied with Christmas trees and snowy landscapes. Three types of cards also tied at 6 percent: Santa Claus, snowmen and wreaths or greenery, including a card from Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter featuring a mountain laurel painted by the 39th president.

Critters of the woods and fields — beavers, deer, mice and a surprising number of foxes —were featured on 5 percent of the cards. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, religious themes such as churches and angels also garnered only 5 percent of the card haul.

Ornaments and city skylines had 4 percent and 3 percent respectively. I was relieved to have at least two nativity scenes (considering the reason for the season). And there was one cat card.

I appreciate and enjoyed them all, but perhaps my favorite had no imagery. It was four words printed in blocky type: Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. It's a keeper for all seasons. S

Edwin Slipek, senior contributing editor at Style Weekly, is an adjunct instructor at the School of the Arts of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.



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