Digital technology has not destroyed paper greeting cards, whether snail-mailed, attached to gifts or handed out personally. Yay!
How do I know? I just celebrated a birthday and I have a great collection of cards to prove it. The puny and poignant messages come from as far as Ireland and as near as my sister, who is four miles away.
Call me an ole fogey, but I love receiving cards. They indicate friends, family, colleagues, readers and acquaintances care enough to take time from their treadmillish lives to send a personal message.
Fears that our techno-world of e-mail, texting, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook would destroy the arrive-in-an-envelope card are, at least for now, unfounded. I can’t speak to the future as communication continues its wild ride in the sky, but for now the old-fashioned greeting card is on solid footing.
Americans give 6.5 billion to 7 billion cards every year. Wow! Our population is only 327 million, so do the math. The Greeting Card Association — D.C.-based and founded in 1941 as a trade association — estimates nine out of 10 American households give or receive greeting cards.
The profit line for the association’s members has dropped somewhat, but greeting cards remain viable, partly because they change with the times. Sound chips, music, LED lights, 3-D cutouts are all the rage, but then, so are the sentimental messages that have long sustained card popularity.
Greeting card companies study our moods and temperaments to learn what updated messages suit us now. Worries that tech-savvy millennials might abandon paper for such digital niceties as e-cards (an emailed “card” accompanied by music and videos) haven’t, in the big picture, materialized.
An estimated 500 million e-cards are emailed each year, along with untold mass messages through other forms of social media. I suspect the click of a computer mouse or tap of the screen has become an inexpensive and speedy way to satisfy the mass messaging demands of today’s youth and the older addicts of social media.
Thankfully, many still buy or make paper greeting cards, at least for their BFFs.
Even I admit digital acknowledgments play an important role when we realize at the last minute there’s no time to send out a card. Click! Tap! Our messages fly quickly through cyberspace, from Virginia to the Mississippi Coast, or across the world.
Did you know that when you send someone a greeting card, be it electronically or the old-fashioned way, you are following in ancient footsteps? Several millennia ago, ancient Chinese exchanged written goodwill messages for the New Year, and Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to send greetings.
By early Middle Ages, Europeans were exchanging elaborate handmade greeting cards, with Valentine’s a favorite. Soon German printers were producing New Year’s cards.
Improved paper-making and printing made such cards easier, with the first mass-produced Christmas card in Europe in the mid-19th century. The U.S. jumped in the fray in 1856 when German immigrant Louis Prang opened a lithographic shop near Boston and launched America’s greeting card industry.
Now a dozen official holidays help push the industry along, joining cards for other special occasions from graduations to acknowledgments of grief and personal milestones.
The one day a year each of us will mark is our birth date, so guess which is the top day for receiving a card. It’s our birthdays, followed by Christmas, Valentine’s Day, then Mother’s Day. The last two come in at about 100 million cards each year but birthday cards number a whopping 2 billion.
Such numbers explain my new stack of birthday greetings. I cherish each one, from the mysteriously sent, hilarious pop-up card from all the animals (squirrels, dogs, horses, birds, goats, rabbits, etc.) in my life to the hand-added sentiments of a best friend and a sister.
I hope Lewis Carroll would forgive a slight altering of a favorite quote from his “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.”
“... and that shows there are 364 days when you might get un-birthday cards,” said Humpty Dumpty.
“Certainly,” said Alice.
“And only one for birthday cards, you know,” said Humpty. “There’s glory for you!”
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville, VA 22923.