The ancient Chinese would be amazed at how much their original tradition- the New Year’s good will event of sending messages to ward off the wild beast called Nien- has evolved into what we now know as e-cards. “Nien” was a monster who attacked and killed villagers at the end of each year and the word “nien” was attributed the meaning “year” in Chinese.
Over the years, the Germans, in the mid 1400s printed expensive New Year greetings and then used paper handmade valentines to exchange Valentine’s Day greetings. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole of the famous British poetry (Ole King Cole), invented the first Christmas greeting card during Victorian times. His purpose was for those who were financially able to spread word of charitable endeavors through the use of Christmas cards, which were at that time painted individually and hand delivered, making them very expensive to acquire.
Cole became a Commissioner of the Victoria & Albert Museum and used a surplus of money for the improvement of art education and science in the UK. With so many contacts to send cards to each year, his Christmas list became unmanageable and it was only helped by the introduction of the postage stamp in 1840 and the advances that were made in the printing press.
Fast forward to today, when Hallmark claims $7 billion annually in retail sales. It seems that most people prefer to send an e-card online rather than resort to the traditional cards, which require time to purchase, time to maintain street addresses, time to stand on line in the post office to mail them if the postage varies, and then factor in enough time for the card to arrive at its destination for the Holiday.
Now that our culture’s emphasis is on immediate gratification, the internet affords us a way to accomplish all of these tasks in a relatively short time, and to bypass this supply chain, creating a quiet retail revolution of the card business. One that allows more customization since personal pictures can be manipulated into computer graphics to produce the images we want or we can choose from a wide selection of choices online.
We have watched as those who haven’t committed to the new media fell behind, either because of illness or the restrictions of age. Whether it is their lack of interest in computers or their love of the sentimentality that accompanied the old tradition, they will tell you that they “hate looking at a greeting card on a screen” and there is some merit to the fact that there was an element of surprise in receiving a card from a loved one in the mail. If that person hadn’t been in touch for some time then the card conveyed happy memories, especially if a photo was enclosed adding context to extended relatives in their new environment.
Of course, the physical card could be used as a decorative item afterwards, hung as a garland on the chimney or the Christmas tree. So these memories lingered where they were visible for a season before they were gone and were not as fleeting as they are now. While the creativity that goes into the design of e-cards defy the senses and improve every year, we only see them when we log on to our computers.
Call me nostalgic! But I will miss those days. Especially the cards that came from my grandkids. Freehand drawings of hearts and first letters saying “I love you Grandma!” Perhaps we’ll be able to one day see a slide show of all the beautiful e-card designs that are now being created, put to music. I bet somewhere, someone is already coding a program that does exactly this.