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Archive for Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday card says something about sender

December 25, 2008

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Match the holiday card message with its sender (answers at end):

1. “May your heart and home be filled with joys of the holiday season.” This card also contained a quote from Matthew 5:16.
2. “Happy Everything.”
3. “Wishing you a holiday season filled with warm and cherished moments.”
4. “Merry Christmas.”
5. “Wishing you a wonderful holiday season.”

The answers:

A. The president and first lady.
B. The governor and first lady of Pennsylvania.
C. The sisters of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Vanderbilt University.
D. Me.
E. Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan.

Each of these and many more have arrived at our house recently. They’re typical of what our family has received this season.

So far the score is 43-8. Meaning, 43 cards that make no mention of Christmas and eight that do.

As I write this, there are still several days to go before Dec. 25, but I think I can call this contest without concern for any margin of error. After all, the results have been trending this way for several years. More and more holiday cards make no mention of the event celebrated in our home.

It’s become an annual dilemma: What message do you put inside the card? Happy Holidays? Season’s Greetings? Merry Christmas? Happy Hanukkah?

Bush and the first lady mistakenly struck an interesting balance this year. An invitation to a Hanukkah party at the White House pictured a Christmas tree on the front. One invitee called the invitation “absolutely bizarre,” but I think the president’s gaffe was typical of the times in which we live.

This annual message is no small decision, especially in my house. Each year our family invests significant time in deciding what our card will look like. And when we can’t reach a consensus, we send multiple cards and try to match the form of greeting to the recipients’ faiths and personalities.

Last year’s card made quite an impression.

Two summers ago, angry Brits beeped their horns and yelled, “Yank, go home!” as our three sons and one daughter re-created the Beatles’ famous walk across Abbey Road. The image was the front of our Christmas card, with the message “Come Together” inside. People told us they loved it.

This year I wasn’t sure what to write inside. Which is fitting, I guess. Letter-writing is a dying art, and receiving one is a rare gift.

So too, unfortunately, are these annual greetings. I’m encountering more and more people who think Christmas cards are hokey or outdated.

Not me. I like sending a family card and relish receiving them from friends. I even look forward to those annual newsletters people send out, the ones with the family pictures, the honor roll and the vacation recap. I’m intrigued to see who blankets their mailing list with a generic “Happy Holidays” vs. those bold enough to wish an outright “Merry Christmas.”

And it’s not just the entertainment value I look forward to. Every year we keep the Christmas cards we receive in a box near the tree, so anyone who wants to peruse them can easily do so. Then they’re stored in the attic alongside those amassed in prior years. I often envision myself pulling them out to remember old friends later on.

I will never forget the classic card from Daily News columnist Russell Byers and his wife, Laurada. It arrived the day he was murdered in 1999. Every year at this time I think of him.

That’s one reason I think I put so much stock in cards. They’re a rare dependable benchmark — something tangible that we can touch, see, store and revisit no matter what happens over the following years.

Which is why it’s important to get it right. Offer a little humor or tug on some heartstrings. Chances are, if it means something to you, the people you send it to will feel the same way.

Is it in poor taste to send a Christmas card to a family celebrating Hanukkah? Am I copping out if I send a Christian a “Season’s Greeting”? Divorce is another tough call. Do you send a card to him or her? Neither? Both? What if you were never as close to her, but she has custody of the kids and you want them to know you’re thinking of them?

They’re all questions I look forward to answering each year. Because the ritual of the Christmas cards carries this lesson: No matter what message you settle on, that card will always say something about you, too.

The answers: 1. A; 2. D; 3. B; 4. E; 5. C.

— Michael Smerconish writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may contact him via the Web at www.mastalk.com.

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