A rack of greeting cards of various categories. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
“Do you have any cards for granddaughter and husband?”
“Oh my God, you’re the reason we still do this,” I muttered under my breath as I scanned the rack of Christmas cards. I’d already been there ten minutes longer than I wanted to; hell, if I’d had a choice, I wouldn’t have even gone to Hallmark to begin with.
As I get older, I’m failing to see the need for buying Christmas cards. I’m not talking about the cards that you buy in a box or customize with a photograph or two and mail to people you haven’t seen, heard from, or spoken of in at least a decade; I’m talking about the individual cards you give along with a gift to people you are going to see on Christmas Day to whom I can say “Merry Christmas.” Is a card really that necessary, especially when it’s going to wind up in the trash sometime before New Year’s Day? And why, if I am complaining about having to buy Christmas cards, did I wind up dropping $34 in Hallmark?
I think it probably boils down to the idea of obligated tradition, a “We’ve always done it this way” thing for Christmas that is probably one of the few things keeping the greeting card industry afloat. Because if you’ve actually stopped and thought about it, there are very few people who actually want to buy Christmas cards and that’s because we’re all secure in our feelings toward each other. Unfortunately, we cater to the insecure and the manipulative, either to shut them up or avoid drama, and if you haven’t mastered the art of manipulation yet, I can confidently tell you that there are five types of people that you have to look out for.
The Indexing Continuity Freaks. I’ve already given you a glimpse of these people at the very opening of this post, but let me go a little further in depth here. These are the people who own accordion files where they keep greeting cards for every different type of person and every possible occasion that may be celebrated. Is your second cousin-in-law a secretary? Here’s a Secretary’s Day card! Does anyone possibly celebrate Arbor Day? She does! Is anyone going to be able to tell that you’re giving the same card to your grandmother this year that you gave last year? This person, of course! Look, I understand the mentality–after all, I’ve been known to obsess over how exactly to organize my comic book collection from time to time (alphabetical by title? Should I put all the parts of a crossover together? Do I arrange things pre-Crisis vs. post-Crisis?)–but there’s a point where it gets ridiculous. Not only that, but greeting card companies have been catering to these nuts for years. I can’t look for a plain birthday card for my sister without having to sift through shelves of “sister and deadbeat boyfriend,” “sister and her 10 cats,” or “when are you going to settle down, sister” cards.
The Backhanded Complimenters. There was a point, a few years ago, that I stopped buying mother-in-law cards. Why? Well, first, there were only three mother-in-law cards that existed and I’d bought all three of them (see also: Hanukkah … do stores in the South really not think that Judaism is an actual religion?); furthermore, they were all so insulting. If I’m buying a card for someone and it has to say something inside, I’d like something nice and simple, not some screed about how tough it is to get along with your mother-in-law. The “Daughter” and “Son” cards are just as bad. I mean, I understand that the woman or man your son married did not spring forth from your womb, but do you really need the quotes? Does anyone, other than the Indexing Continuity Freak, really want to open up a card and find out that they’re a sub-category or that they’re “loved?” Even Roger Maris had his asterisk taken away, for crying out loud.
The Emotional Momenters. You know who I’m talking about. They’ve bought you a gift that’s very nice, but they spent more time on the card and while you open the envelope, their eyes grow with anticipation, waiting as you read the card and searching longingly for the first sign of tears. It’s a calculated move they use every holiday and they are outright disappointed when the card doesn’t have the desired effect. After all, they read every card in the store in order to choose the right one, so you’d better cry. Oh, you’d better cry. And if you don’t? Then, cold shoulder it is! These people are the hardest to please because not only are they looking for just the right reaction, they are examining the opening and reading of the card so closely that you have to time everything just right or they’re going to know the moment you’re faking. There’s no way you could read a card that quickly and react like that! I watched your face as you read slowly–you didn’t mean it! Emotional Momenters are powderkegs of dramatic irrational crying waiting to go off, so make sure you practice.
The Comedians. I love a good funny greeting card. Love them. But I can’t stand the lowbrow ones. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m, oh, I don’t know, smart, but when I’m giving my wife an amusing card for Christmas, I’d prefer not to have to have her read a card about sex acts out of a bad porno movie. Furthermore, why does every joke about Santa involve reindeer poop or yellow snow? There is such a thing as a smart joke; can’t I get a card that tells one of those? People who give these cards most likely will present them to you in front of people who would easily get offended by said jokes and therefore, you wind up doing that nervous laugh that says, “Okay, I see how funny this is but you obviously have no social skills or you wouldn’t have given me a card involving 50 Shades of Gray in front of my 80-year-old Born-Again Christian grandmother.” Please … if we all stop buying poop joke cards, maybe they’ll stop making them.
The People Who Didn’t Pay Attention in English Class. I teach high school English. Whenever I assign a novel, the first question is, “How long is it?” Well, either that or students open the book, look at the last page, then look at the first page and celebrate the fact that the book begins on page four instead of page one (because that makes such a difference). These people seem to think that quantity begets quality; therefore, these people are more likely to buy greeting cards that have multiple pages of sappy sentiment, as if that makes them better than something that is simply stated. Thankfully, I married someone who majored in English and knows better, so the two of us get simple cards–that is, if we remember to get cards at all. I’m convinced that nobody who buys these long-winded cards actually reads said long-winded cards. They just see a lot of words, grab the card, pay for it, get in their IROC with a “Tommy & Gina 4-Eva” license plate frame and speed off into the night.
One year, I’ll actually not buy cards at all. I’ll rip the Band-Aid off and allow for the disappointment of “Oh, you didn’t buy cards?” to wash over me until it’s repeated enough times over enough years that people forget I ever gave anyone a card. That won’t be this year, though, because I’m too lazy to deal.