#1. Religious Cards
The historic birth of Jesus of Nazareth is nowhere near December 25th and the celebration of Christmas was just an attempt to pander to pagans who were accustomed to having Saturnalia around that time of year. Christmas might as well be a secular holiday. And there’s no shame in that. People like getting stuff, giving stuff, and enjoying each other’s company.
Chanukah isn’t a major Jewish event, but the psychotic consumer turbine of Christmas managed to suck up this oil-miracle non-event and spit it out as an opportunity for gift-giving one-upmanship (eight days, motherfucker!). And that’s ok too! Generosity should be a secular event.
So giving someone a religious Christmas card is antagonistic and sucks a lot of the fun out of an otherwise joyful event. There’s no need to loudly proclaim your religiosity on Christmas. If you’re that type of person, chances are everyone already knows your feelings about god-stuff and they’d like one day’s reprieve.
#2 Winter cards
Winter is not an occasion. Unless you thought you were sending a holiday card and sent this by accident, cut it out.
“But what do I do if someone I know doesn’t celebrate Chanukah or Christmas?” you ask. Don’t send them a card that addresses what season it is. I guarantee they’re aware that it’s winter. And you’re aware that they’re aware. So it’s a disingenuous way of saying, “I’d wish you a merry Christmas, except you don’t do that and that’s a real shame.” Sending a non-holiday holiday card around the holidays is like sending you neighbor a “get well soon” card when you hear about an Ebola outbreak in Ghana—sometimes inclusion is just a confusing annoyance. Maybe invite them over to your festivities instead. Your neighbor, not the Ghanaians.
#3 Anti-Winter Cards
These suck for the same reason winter cards suck: because winter sucks. We all know it, so stop rubbing it in by being cheeky about it. We’d all rather not have to wear a sweater to bed for three months; most of us like to be able to feel our own toes; no one in the entire world relishes the opportunity to shovel snow.
Christmas and Chanukah have a very, very specific aesthetic: candles, fur trees, snow, reindeer, fat men with beards, ham, scotch, and the colors red, blue, and green. This isn’t a tabula rasa of interpretation open to Joycean contextualized sub-ironic homage. Stick to the plan, because you’re not going to find a new angle on a manufactured holiday.
#4 “Funny” cards
The fundamental problem with funny greeting cards is that they’re almost never funny. You disagree? OK, Hallmark copywriter, let’s get down to Jokes 101.
Jokes are funny because they play upon, alter, or invert our expectations, which are based on prior experience and/or the step-up of the joke itself. Therefore, different people find different jokes funny. The crafting of the joke takes into account the intended audience. But when you’re writing a joke for the entire American consumer populous it’s basically impossible to decide what would qualify as a shared experience between 315 million people. Breathing? Sleeping? Other bodily functions?
Hence the above card—Santa with a visible asscrack. The implication is “Santa has pants problems and probably farts, just like you!” Does that change our ideas on Santa? Not really, because I don’t think anyone ever gave thought to a fictional character’s digestive function or belt-wearing acumen. He’s not the Pope. You’re not speaking truth to power.
Ecards are a visual holocaust and, because they usually “talk” or have some sort of music, a goddamn migraine too. Please don’t send one of these. Ever. Unless you’re a middle-aged housewife in 2003.
If you really need to communicate holiday cheer over an electronic medium, a simple text message will do, e.g. “Merry [Whatever]! Hope you and your [friends/family/stamp collection] are well.”
#6 Everything else
If you were reading this list to get tips on good card-giving etiquette, consider yourself duped. The bottom line is that greeting cards are impractical, impersonal, and a waste of money. Christmas and Chanukah (sure, Kwanzaa can come too) are about eating tons of food to stave off the cold,
getting a little too drunk in front of your sister’s kids, and spending time with the people that you’re stuck with, for better or for worse; they’re about putting a lot of thought and effort into figuring out what makes the people closest to you happy, and then trying to reduce that idea into a material possession that you can put in laughably tacky wrapping paper—because you can’t help your uncle become the filmmaker he always dreamed of being, but a few Criterion DVDs is a good start.
Anything worthwhile you could say to or buy for these people won’t fit inside a card. Guaranteed.
Part of what brings people together is being able to share the ugly parts of themselves. A really clever greeting card won’t make it easier for your friend to talk about her divorce, it won’t quiet down your racist step mom, and it won’t help broach the subject of your continued unemployment. These are the things that come up in conversation as Christmas Day soldiers on. Not that anyone expected a piece of cardstock to be capable of such feats, but the fact remains: a greeting card is an empty gesture.
So as we approach Christmas, don’t be an asshole: take the time to write something to the ones you love, in your own words.