Friday, November 20, 2009

The New Holiday Card Etiquette

We are receiving a growing number of Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards from businesses and community organizations. I am guessing this trend is centered in a desire to avoid offending people of various faiths (or no faith at all) who do not celebrate Christmas, and perhaps also to avoid offending certain devout Christians who object to the manner in which a religious holiday has morphed into a generic season of good cheer and power shopping.

Since it is presumably good for business to send clients an occasional greeting of some sort, Thanksgiving is ideally situated to provide this opportunity. After all, the message most organizations want to convey to clients is “thank you” for your business or your support. I suspect we will see more of this in the coming years, and that individuals may ultimately embrace the practice along with businesses. In the years where we send actual Christmas cards instead of letters, we always purchase one box of “generic” cards for our non-Christian friends and still sometimes agonize over the etiquette of sending one at all.

In recent years some Christian groups have raised quite a bit of fuss over the way Christmas has been broadened into a holiday that includes everyone, Christian or not. They get their pants in a knot when someone says “happy holidays!” rather than “merry Christmas,” and go to the mat to keep the manger display on the town hall lawn. Their rallying cry is “put Christ back into Christmas!” I am not entirely unsympathetic to their cause; at least insofar as the efforts speak of resisting the crass commercialization of a sacred celebration. Yet I do not believe that specifically Christian symbols belong in public settings, particularly governmental ones. It is an ongoing tension—the month of December is a sloppy mess in which the sacred and secular are all tangled up and the very best and very worst within us are both more evident than at any other time of year. Baby Jesus claims Christmas Eve and Santa owns Christmas morning (along with most of the four weeks preceding it). I choose to view the entire sloppy mess as more positive than negative, but my inner Grinch still surfaces from time to time (I am not entirely certain the Grinch is mentioned in Luke or Matthew; I need to check).

Somehow Thanksgiving has managed to stay above the fray. Sure, there are parades in the morning and football games the rest of the day, and people eat more than they think they should (which is what a feast is supposed to be about). But the heart of the day manages to remain focused on the core virtue of gratitude, arguably the greatest virtue of all. Truly thankful people will not be consumed by greed or envy. Grateful people do not solve legitimate differences through war or violence. Thankful people willingly share their bounty with those who have less. It is a wonderful day to gather with friends and family to give thanks. Any maybe the ideal day on which to send our friends a card that says “I am grateful for you!”

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