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From the Left Hand Corner: Are Christmas cards a lost art?

We don’t seem to have as many Christmas cards around as we used to.

“Lost art” may not be the best term. Maybe it is more a lost practice or lost habit among us. The real art was always on the cards; but nevertheless, most often, the ” lady of the house” seemed to have a deeply ingrained practice of Christmas card selection and sending down to an art or science.

A Christmas card list was a living year-to-year document, changing more by addition than deletion. If a normally prolific card sender per chance received a card from someone beyond the sender list, an immediate adjustment was made to the list. If calendar time allowed, a hurried responding card was rushed to the mail box. If it was too late for that year, be assured there was an asterisk, notation and reminder to make early reciprocal response the next year and thereafter.

Cards to closer relatives, friends and other special people were often embellished with a personal note of yuletide blessing, well wishing or sharing of holiday cheer. Some added notes were expanded to the point where the printed inside verse was written over and the card back filled. The writing got smaller when it spilled into the margins or got “scrunched” at the bottom of the card.

And then there were the Christmas letters, some of which just hit the year’s high points, while others were as detailed and drawn out as biblical” begats”.

I’m no expert on this subject, as I’ve been one of those irresponsible ones. While, like others, I’ve enjoyed receiving and reading Christmas cards over the years, I’ve never done much sending of them to others. That just may have something to do with not seeing them quite so much anymore.

However, I believe Christmas cards are phasing out as a means of social communication in our society, much like social letters, which have already become virtually nonexistent.

Cost and convenience are certainly factors as we move along from where we were and are, to where we’re moving. In early years of personal memory, stamps were 3 cents and a card (with envelope) was a nickel or less.

I know they were a nickel or less because as a young boy, I trudged around the streets of Pequot during noon hours and Saturdays in December, selling Christmas cards for a buck a box of 20. I got to keep a dime, and on some deals 15 cents. Selling garden seeds each spring paid little better.

When you apply the necessary multipliers for today’s prices, mailed Christmas cards can’t compete very well with free email or next to free long distance phone greetings. That competitive disadvantage may be even greater when one considers the tweeting and texting that I don’t even comprehend.

As one at age of occasional lamentation and more occasional dwelling on the “good ol days,” I’m already missing Christmas cards. They still come in numbers far more than I deserve, but they don’t fill the big bowls on mom’s dining room table, and later our kitchen table, like they used to.

I’ve noted lately that my in-laws are better than my directly related family in keeping up the tradition. Being an incorrigible Democrat and political junkie, I get the photo Christmas or holiday cards from Democrat officeholders, from the president, senators, governor on down. This year’s favorite is a seemingly unposed picture of our snowshoeing congressman and his wife, Mary.

My very favorite cards, though, and the reason for this column, are the three cards from three special cousins, all in the 90-year age bracket. They’ve been sending me Christmas cards annually, regularly for 60 and 70 years, respectively, from when I was a single, growing kid, to family when married, and again when widowed.

Regardless of what life has dealt them in any given year, with loss of spouses and increasing medical crises and ailments, their annual messages are ever upbeat, uplifting and inspiring. Oldest mid-90-year-old Laura advises that she finally gave up regular golf this year, but instead joined a putting group. She is the one who wrote a couple of years ago, on a happy day after golf, that she and her partner at 93 had defeated the “kids” in her foursome who were only 90 and 91.

Cousin Carole, who has been the most frequent writer and lifelong inspiration, can’t see well enough to write anymore, but she telephones across the states to her “younger” sister Doris so she can do the writing for both.

If Christmas cards are passe or fading away, I will miss them. For now I’ll enjoy each one that I receive.