The Christmas Card Gap

The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas provide many of us with the opportunity to spend time with multiple generations of our families. There were three generations in my house this week. My cousins, I think at one point, had four in theirs.

The generation gaps are highlighted as we celebrate. Some show themselves in the speed, or lack thereof, with which we move through the house or go through emails. Sometimes they show up in the songs we sing, the traditions we remember, and the way we think about the world. Other times, the generation gap displays itself in unexpected places. In my house, it showed itself in the conversation that surrounded our Christmas cards.

We send out around 150 Christmas cards every year – to colleagues, extended family, friends from other eras and locations around the world, neighbors, and the families of our boys’ classmates. This year, we sent cards to Washington DC, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Colorado, California, Washington State, Wisconsin, South Africa and Japan. And we received cards from just as many places.

Most of the cards, like ours, were created online with photographs of the family children, and sometimes the adults, depending on how photogenic we are feeling when the cards get created. Most merely say “Happy Holidays” or “Best Wishes in the New Year.” Some, like ours, include a quick round-up of the family activities from the last year:

“Wishing You All the Best in 2012….and Celebrating the Joys of 2011: Business School, LegoLand, Space Shuttle Launch, Cooking School in Ireland, Fantasy Football, Star Wars, Club Penguin, Penny Jar Kids, Cardinals and Falcons, Crested Butte, Cape Cod, Elephant Rock Road Race, Conquering Rocket Math, the Color Red, Time to Write, and the health and good fortune of our friends and family.”

My parents send out traditional cards with Christmas trees or religious images. They write a brief personal note in each.

They were amused by the number of photo cards hanging on the glass door in our living room. My father poured over them, as if looking would help him understand. They wanted to know how it got started, how they got made, why people do it. My mother wondered how Hallmark survives.

I guess we could have two types of cards. One for our out-of-town friends and family who don’t get to see our families grow. One for colleagues and school friends who see us every day, and thus do not need a photo. But I like the photo cards. They provide a family history and capture a moment in time every Christmas. And when you have something special to say, you can write it in the card just like you always did.

I take it for granted, as if a Christmas photo card has been part of the tradition forever. Like so many things that have come to be in our lifetime – computers and cell phones and the Internet – I am always surprised when I am reminded that they did not exist when I was the same age my boys are now. I used a typewriter through most of college, because I was still uncomfortable using a computer. My four year old already has better skills than I did then. I had to find a payphone to call my mom if I was at a movie with friends, and we decided to stay out later to get a snack. Now, I can’t remember the last time I saw one.

So, in my house, three generations have their own assumptions about Christmas cards. My sons expect to get pictures of their friends. That is all they have ever known. I enjoy the photo cards, and though I remember receiving traditional cards as a child at home, I don’t think I ever sent one as an adult. And then there are my parents, who expressed their wonder at this new form of Christmas greeting.

Obviously, it does not matter how we send our best wishes to those we love. Apparently, even Christmas cards evolve and change with the times. What matters is that we still take the time to do it.