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Christmas Cards: then and now
loc keenan photo

Behold the authentic beauty of an old-school family photo. This image, captured in a hurry in November 1968, was carefully removed from the Kodak Instamatic camera, driven to Gibson’s Discount on 10th Street in Great Bend, Kan., placed in an orange envelope and then mailed to Kodak processing labs in Rochester, N.Y., to be made into Christmas cards and then returned three weeks later to Larry and Ramona. The intrinsic appeal of imperfection is perfection.
Today’s Christmas cards bear little resemblance this by-gone era. And those who complain about others taking Christ out of Christmas might want to take a closer look at what message they are conveying in their own cards.
Every Christmas card falls into five groups. Here they are:
Type 1: “A child was born in a manger.” These are the genuine religious cards. Sent to you by friends you came to know at your child’s first communion and then continued to intersect with you at religious milestones. These families are true-blue, real-deal faithful Christians. Defining feature: The cards always include a Bible verse, often this one from the Book of Luke: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Reminds you of: Your parents. Shelf life: You can’t throw these cards away. That violates some rule that no one taught you but the part of your brain that controls guilt tells you this. So you store them in the box with rosaries, funeral cards and baptism candles. Take away: I’m glad we have friends like these. We need to do more with them.
Type 2: “Yes it’s Christmas but we can still have fun.” A break from the guilt, these are the cards designed to cut through the holiday headaches and prompt a chuckle. You see these friends at football tailgates and 40th birthday parties. Their cards remind you it’s nice to have a friend like these, provided they aren’t the designated driver. Defining feature: Often will include a letter that throws dad under the bus. Reminds you of: Clark Griswold. Shelf life:Long enough to steal their ideas for your card next year.
Type 3: Enough of Christmas, let’s talk about me. These are the friends who forgot that Facebook is the only appropriate place to brag. All the photos (plural) are courtesy of a professional photographer and spare no expense. After close inspection at the ladies sporting bedazzled jeans, only one question comes to mind: Which one is the mom? Generally speaking, this category includes at least one photo at either a riding stable or with a thoroughbred. Appearing hip and youthful is very important and may include a hashtag. Defining feature: Family newsletter with humblebrag — meaning trying to sound modest while boasting at the same time. Examples:
“This year was too busy as Mercedes made varsity cheerleading and Chip made Pump and Dump AAU team. Next year we are going to find more time to spend at our house at Lake Lotawana and work on Chuck’s charity of promoting hand-dug wells in the Sahara. #grateful”
“We are still recovering from an amazing Royals experience but hope next year to not be so close to the foul balls! #frontrowtooclose
Happy to have all the children home from their study abroad programs. Yale seems so far away sometimes! #blessed
Great to finally relax over the holidays! The kids make fun of Chuck’s obsession over his Fitbit as he trains for his first half marathon in February! #nopainnogain!
Finally moved closer to Tom’s downtown office but swear we are the poorest family in Mission Hills! #fixerupper!
Reminds you of: The Kardashians. Shelf life: Five seconds.
Type 4: It’s good to be home after traveling the world. Technically this is a subgroup of category three, but adds the additional dimension of making you feel inadequate that you only saw the Eiffel Tower on TV. Defining feature: Posing in front of Big Ben. Reminds you of: Anthony Bourdain without culinary skills. Shelf life: Three hours.
Type 5: Give me your business! Christmas is public relations and there is no pretense otherwise. Whoever sent you this card works for a company with a large marketing department with too much time and money. Defining feature: Postage meter in lieu of stamps. Reminds you: Someone out there misunderstands you. Shelf life: Three seconds.
Here’s to more cards reminding us what Christmas is really about. Unless they are really funny. We need more humor these days.
Matthew Keenan writes the first and third Wednesday of the month. Reach him at