The zeal in sending greeting cards may have diminished, but there’s still joy in receiving them.
OUR work desks are buried beneath tasteful paper illustrations of conifers and snow-covered scenery. But at home, only three holiday greeting cards stand forlornly on a shelf in the sitting room. Each one was sent by a different friend to mark Deepavali, Christmas and the New Year.
For the last five years, my family has observed a steep decline in the number of personal greeting cards we receive during the holidays. Social media and affordable international telephony offer exciting and convenient alternatives.
No longer does one have to plan in advance and begin weeks before the holiday to create or buy a beautifully decorated piece of paper or cardboard, inscribe it with personal greetings and carefully put it into a postbox.
Instead, whenever one remembers, text messages can be sent in one button to acquaintances, emoticons and animated illustrations hiding their impersonal nature, while family and friends merit free Skype or Viber video calls.
I appreciate the convenience of being able to call distant loved ones at a moment’s notice and marvel at my father’s holiday schedule.
It begins with greeting those in Australia and moving west-wards throughout the day, calling friends and relatives in Malaysia, India, the United Kingdom and finally, the Americas.
But I do miss the old days when the living-room shelf groaned beneath the weight of greeting cards hand-made or store-bought. I miss the excitement of discovering an odd-shaped envelope in a pile of bills and flyers, often with an unfamiliar postmark or a coloured stamp that breathed exotica.
My first glimpses of the profile of Queen Elizabeth II and a 3D illustration of clownfish were particularly memorable.
The last quarter of the year was peak time, with greeting cards arriving in succession for Deepavali, Christmas and the New Year. Paper embossed with diya lamps and sparklers jostled for space with sleigh rides and delicate water-colours, so many that they stood three-deep and forced family conferences over which greetings should take pride of place.
Naturally, we agreed, front spot should go to the handmade cards sent by children, or artwork created by the artists we knew, but we each secretly had our favourites and would on the sly rotate the display to allow those cards top billing.
The cards might stay on the shelf well into January until they were finally, heartbreakingly retired, either to serve as material for school art projects, or be carefully preserved.
When we moved house in the Noughties, we had to deal with many such boxes of yearly missives, re-reading and exclaiming with nostalgia over their contents, before sadly putting them into the recycling pile.
A few were preserved for historical reasons, especially a 1983 New Year’s greeting sent by my mother’s sister, a marine biologist, from the first science station India set up in Antarctica.
“I don’t like greeting cards,” my mother said last week. “I was always very bad at sending them on time and then what do you do with them afterwards?”
I take her point, being equally hopeless at remembering birthdays and anniversaries in time to put a card in the mail. The instantaneous and paperless nature of e-mail and telephone greetings also appeals to my tree-loving heart. No fuss, no muss to deal with afterwards.
Still, my heart skipped a beat earlier last month when, among the pile of bills and property agent flyers in our postbox, I discovered a travel-worn, oddly shaped green envelope postmarked Germany. The card and newsy letter inside was from a twenty-something friend of the family who had made her first trip to Asia last year and stayed at our flat.
She had spent at least half that time making cards and postcards by hand and sending them back to classmates and family in Europe. Now here was another creation, specially addressed to us.
“I send you this because I know how much you like getting things in the mail that are not bills,” she wrote with a smiley.
Naturally, we sent a thank you e-mail and made a phone call to her family. But thinking it over, maybe I should head to the shops now and find a nice little greeting card embossed with cherry blossoms or a cheery horse. If I hurry, it will reach her in time for Chinese New Year. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network