Many friends agree with me on this subject. Christmas is not the same without Christmas cards. Sending digital cards can never achieve the joy that one experiences at getting a physical card with its handwritten and sincere greetings for yuletide. Nothing in the digital world can replace that and I’m glad that there are enough people who want to revive the tradition of sending Christmas cards to near and dear ones. There is something so personal about getting a Christmas card. It is all part of the atmosphere of the season and in the absence of elaborate decoration pieces in the shops in the sixties and seventies, we made do with stringing up cards to decorate the house. That practice had its own rules. You couldn’t use last year’s cards, so you would have to make sure you received enough cards to use them as decorations.
They managed to look quite nice and festive; you could string them horizontally or in curved lines and either style added charm to the room. Visitors would studiously go through each card to see who the recipient was and, more importantly, who was the giver. The size of the card was important too. Families received big cards, but if an adolescent member of the house had been given a big card, it was immediately suspect. It could be from someone from the opposite sex who fancied the recipient. Cards could have all kinds of interpretations.
Nobody favoured the Government of Nagaland cards: in the sixties, they featured a mithun head and an officious greeting inside for the season. No personal note. Each Government card had a seal of the department that was sending it, and the accompanying signature of the official sending it. We never used those cards for decorations. They went to the very back of the stack and only in an emergency (meaning not enough personal cards) were they pulled out to make up the numbers.
The Peak Agency bookstore, the oldest book store in town, sold the best Christmas cards ranging from 3 rupees to 18 rupees for really big and ornamental cards. A girlfriend used to pilfer cards by buying some and managing to sneak some into her schoolbag! The idea of discovery by the owner was terrifying enough for me to end that friendship. I met her again at the Civil hospital after more than 30 odd years, and all I could remember was that sin-and-guilt racked afternoon when I had been reluctant accomplice to her card-pilfering. It was not an act of stealing: what is completely incomprehensiveabout theft is that it surprisingly involves courage and confidence to carry the act through so that in later life, you find yourself boasting about the good old days when you dared to steal a neighbour’s plums, or maize or sugarcane from their garden. You recollect these moments of daring and entertain visitors who never shared your childhood with you by detailing every furtive step that you had taken towards your goal. But Christmas cards and stealing? One had to be morally highly deficient to commit such an act, and yet we did in the year 1970 Anno Domini.
There was another crime that was a little more common: Some girls would reuse old Christmas cards, especially if they had pretty pictures such as cottages with poinsettia growing over the walls, snow-covered streets with people in furs on their way to church and a sleigh in the foreground, angels with bowed wings hovering over the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and a couple of shepherds or more with lots of straw for background effect. These cards would be written over rather cleverly so that there was almost no evidence of the original recipients and givers names. The only way to find out was when the spot had been erased too enthusiastically so that a small hole appeared in the card where the names had been rubbed out.
The sending of cards had its own timing: for instance, if you sent Christmas cards at the end of November, it was considered bad taste. People might think you were giving them cards only so you could get back from them. First week of December was considered tolerably decent timing, but the most acceptable times were the second and third weeks of December, because then no one could accuse you of expecting cards back from them.
But why am I telling you all this? Because a faint hope lingers in my heart that if we care enough, we can bring back the tradition of sending real cards at Christmastime. Merry Christmas everyone!