Cranky Christmas

In the news last night, there was a social piece about Christmas cards. They were wondering if the electronic card–usually free–would eventually replace the paper card. The consensus, biased as it was, was no.

I don’t mind receiving an ecard. We send paper cards every year, but it’s a matter of choice. I’m as pleased to get an ecard as I am of receiving a paper one, although the ecard is more difficult to display on the mantle. What I really, really hate, is to receive a plain email with wishes. As I mentioned, many ecards sites offer free cards, so obviously it’s not the cost that came into play. I received three emails this year, and from family to boot. What, you were too lazy to pick a free card? You felt obligated to send me something because I sent you a card, but you don’t really care? Well, please, don’t bother.

It’s the same for off-the-cuff, ridiculously wrapped gift. For the past three years, a friend I’ve known for over twenty years has been giving me what I’d call afterthought gifts. Something she’s had in her house, wrapped loosely in torn tissue paper, and shoved in a wine bottle bag. Another, with the same kind of wrapping, gave me a Costco plastic salt shaker and a mushroom brush. For Christmas.  It was obvious she’d gone through her house to find something she could give me because we were coming to visit. If I went by the type of presents to determine how much these friends value me, I’d be depressed.

Instead, I blame it on how friendships and relationships have become superficial. With Twitter and Facebook, we live “social moments” with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, often on the run or while doing something else. We talk at people and don’t get responses–and we don’t necessarily want them. There’s not as much time left to sit down and talk, families are often dispersed across one or more continents, and there’s a sense of alienation that lodges itself into the way we interact with people. Today, it’s all about numbers rather than quality. We value ourselves by the number of “friends” we have but could never have a conversation with half of them.

I’m not saying that Twitter and Facebook, or any other social network,  are bad. In fact, none of the people I talked about above use a social network. What I’ve been observing, rather, is the pervasiveness of isolation we seem to surround ourselves with, and this translates into a casual attitude to interacting, and to giving. It’s especially glaring in times like Christmas, because of the messages of love and giving we get battered with.

So, this Christmas, make an effort. If you decide to reach to someone, do it with heart and meaning and sincerity. Otherwise, don’t bother.

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