Season's Greetings And Christmas Cards

Some 1980s Christmas cards from WXIA-TV Atlanta that I received during my time affiliated with them from 1985 to 1990. Signed by Johnny Beckman, Guy Sharpe and other meteorologists and staff.

 Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, it was common to see the phrase “Season's Greetings” on Christmas cards, advertisements and other decorations, but the phrase dating back to Victorian times seems to have fallen out of usage or I seldom seem to encounter it any longer. My mother seemed to favor it for our family Christmas cards and I remember as a child seeing it the most often compared to other popular phrases like Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. 


Without fail and with enjoyment, my mother sent out Christmas cards every December. Revco, Zayre, K-Mart, Richway, Rich's or from wherever she got them that year. I was there with her, going through the boxes in the aisle next to the wrapping paper, until she asked me what I thought and she decided on just the right one. Some years it was a reindeer, a sleigh, a bird or barn in the snow or Santa with a bag of toys slung over his shoulder that she chose. Sometimes we agreed and sometimes we did not.

Christmas cards from my childhood home in the 1980s.


The tradition was for her to retrieve the red address book from the telephone table in the living room and sit down to write out a stack of cards intended for friends and relatives. People got them even if she had not seen or spoken to them during the year; she was going to think of them for the moment it took to write their name.


The addresses rarely changed as people did not hop from house to house like the nomads of today seeking an upgraded kitchen and twenty car garage, except for a crazy aunt of mine who was constantly marrying, divorcing and moving. Houses are no longer homes, but investments and there are more people in Georgia than I ever would have imagined as a child. You could write my name and Route 5 Dallas, Georgia without any other numbers or a road and the mail carrier would have known exactly who I was and where I lived thirty or forty years ago. Not so today.


Christmas cards on a fireplace mantle in my former Louisville home. Photo by me, December 1996.

I sat next to my mother on the sofa and watched and waited for my turn in our conveyor belt Christmas card operation. Her handwriting was much prettier than mine; I am a left-hander and she was a righty, so she did the writing. My job was to stamp and seal the envelopes after she had signed the cards and filled in the address. Some television show would be on the background that neither of us cared for or in the seventies, she would have the Elvis Christmas LP from 1970 playing on the wood cabinet stereo.

No one interfered with us, as it was likely there was no one else around. When the writing, stamping and licking were done, we would drive to the post office in Dallas and I would run inside and drop them through the slots marked "Dallas Only" or "Out of Town."

A 1970s Christmas card from my great grandmother and great uncle in Visetown, Tennessee.

I do not imagine a scene such as that often plays out in contemporary life. Children have little interest in anything that is not on a phone screen and the same could be said of adults too. Christmas cards have been replaced by social media posts that sound like they were written by public relations firms and accompany an over stylized family photo in front of a Christmas tree or a summer beach vacation at Destin or Panama City at sunset with everyone dressed in white. The smiles will be wide, the hair will be blown, the sand will fill every wrinkle and the sunburn serious. Were these people stranded in the desert? After all, there are appearances to keep up and as I said to someone recently, everyone on social media appears to be happy and living the best life. Much show must be made of every moment at that very moment.

Most people of my generation and older will think of the Christmas card as an artifact of our past lives. Younger generations likely do not think of Christmas cards at all because they have probably never signed one. The Christmas card can be considered The Ghost of Christmas Past warning Scrooge to remember the innocent Christmas spirit that he possessed in his youth, lest he die miserably and sentenced to become a ghost chained up like old Jacob Marley. It might be Dickensian to hold the antiquated Christmas card in high regard or give it such powers of sentimentality. As a fan of Dickens, I fondly remember the cards as much as the parties more than I do any G.I. Joe or Star Wars action figures that I received as a present under the tree. Receiving a Christmas card meant that you mattered or were thought of, even if it was only for a moment. There was a human connection in the handwriting, the brief words written, the tearing open of the envelope and the licking of the stamp.

There is no human connection in the 'like' button or the heart icon underneath the thumb holding a screen. You might as well keep scrolling for the next video or selfie or time-wasting piece of content.

Half of the enjoyment of Christmas cards was receiving them in the mail. I liked to see the variety of cards that people chose and the handwriting styles. After opening the cards, they would be placed on the mantle above the fireplace, where they would sit until after the new year, when the decorations came down and were boxed up. While they were there for a month, I would look at them and be reminded of that person and imagine our card sitting on their mantle. The lifespan of the Christmas card was another part of the tradition. The unsatisfactory modern equivalent of social media posts cannot be perched on a mantle or satisfy my need to tear open an envelope. Their lifespan is less than a second, as it is scrolled by and never seen or thought of again. Such is contemporary digital life, where nothing endures.


The Lenox Square tree in 2007. Photo by me.

Similarly, Macy's killed off the Rich's Christmas tree tradition after seventy-four years in Atlanta. I have been to Lenox Square twice since Thanksgiving this year and the Christmas spirit was lacking and some of that was not seeing a Christmas tree atop the Rich's (it'll never be Macy's to me) store. It was a tradition I grew up with, even in years I did not see the tree in person at the Rich's flagship downtown store on the crystal bridge or when it moved to Buckhead, as the night of the lighting was always broadcast on television. In my lifetime until now, it has always existed and so from my perspective, it should always continue to exist. Tradition is something humans grasp onto when other aspects of life shift with the times and become unrecognizable. They are reassurances on cold, windy nights that some things still matter and are constant when little else behaves in that manner.

The last Christmas card my mother sent me four months before she died.

The season's greetings are not mailed anymore, but are more likely Instagrammed and forgotten. Traditions require too much time, thought and effort in the age of instant and constant gratification. This is how traditions fade out little by little with the passage of time and people. I still send Christmas cards and I will keep sending them until I can no longer find them in the stores or have no one to send them to.