Say it like you mean it

birthday card
My ideal birthday card

Yesterday I received a truly awesome birthday card. It was beautifully hand drawn by an  11 year old friend of mine, and the particularly wonderful bit was the inscription, written by her 13 year old sister, which was thoughtful, heartfelt and perfectly tailored to me: “Wishing you a lovely bday and a year filled with learning interesting things you never knew. Have an awesome time!”

Contrast that with a hallmark card with some insipid generic greeting inside, and the inspiring words “happy birthday, love X”. The words may be heartfelt, but the card really isn’t worth the $5 or more that it probably cost. Much better to say it face to face, over the phone, or even on facebook.

Christmas cards are worse. Years ago I decided to boycott the Christmas card ritual, and I have never regretted it for an instant. I used to receive an avalanche of “Dear X, Merry Christmas, Love Y” cards, which I would then feel obliged to reciprocate, and I always felt that the only winners in this scenario were Hallmark and the postal service. I was therefore unsurprised today, while reading a Bill Bryson book, to discover that the Christmas card was invented by the British postal service, to encourage the use of the 1 penny stamp. Cha Ching!

I don’t for a moment object to those cards which truly have something to say (although I emphatically refuse to count Hallmark poems as something to say), and I do recognise their value in reconnecting people, when properly personalised. But I vigorously object to the idea that they are compulsory. They’re not. They are nothing more than an alarmingly successful marketing idea!

I quite like receiving christmas or end-of-year letters, even the photocopied variety with a space for my name to be written in. Even if they’re not truly personalised, at least I am learning things from them, and I find that the people who send those nearly always add a personal message to their cards anyway, so it’s win-win.

I still possess cards I was given 20 years or more ago, the ones with long personal messages in them – they are snippets of friendship history that still make me smile, and sometimes cry. I have farewell cards from past workplaces that contain snapshots of my working relationships at the time, and I treasure them. But I never keep the “dear X,  pre-printed platitude, love Y” cards. What would be the point? They are bland and meaningless. A testament to the power of advertising, not a memento of an event or relationship.

So next time I am facing a blank card with a pen devoid of inspiration, I will ditch the card and make a phone call.  If I have something special to say, I might put it in a card. Or write a letter. But if it’s just to say “Happy Birthday,” I won’t bother with the card. A hug carries so much more feeling than Hallmark could ever imagine, let alone express. I choose to enrich my relationships, instead of enriching card manufacturers.

Now I’m going to go and re-read my hand-drawn birthday card and spend some time smiling about the gorgeous friends who made and signed it. This one’s a treasure!


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