For birthdays, cards truly deliver

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The moment I spotted this card last week, I knew I had to buy it. Why? Because I believe that birthdays are occasions that warrant a physical message of recognition and good cheer, one that is chosen by hand, written by hand, and delivered by hand. Showing a close friend or family member that you really care is best done using this method.

At a time when instantaneous digital communication dominates the social landscape, greeting cards can seem quaint — even outdated. But they offer everything that we hunger for in the age pixels and Pinterest: surprise, personalization, intimacy, and lasting value. Those brief birthday wishes that clump up on your Facebook feed once per year? They might offer a degree of surprise and a moment’s worth of personalization, but intimacy and lasting value are two traits that they, at least in my mind, clearly lack.

Which would you rather receive from your closest friends? A phone full of text messages punctuated with emoji, or several colorful envelopes in your mailbox featuring stamps — yes, the Post Office does still sell these miniature pieces of artwork! — and your name printed on the front. Your name written by someone else’s hand! As in, they actually took the time to record every letter of that special group of words that identifies you as a unique being. How revolutionary! How counter-cultural! How refreshingly daring!

Even if seeing your name and your mailing address penned by someone else does not pique your interest, the heft of the envelope itself should send a shiver of possibility up your arm. A greeting card weighs something, actual ounces that can be measured on a scale. Cards are sturdy — even robust — in comparison to the rest of the “gifts” that arrive in your mailbox on an almost daily basis (grocery ads; the Bed, Bath, and Beyond 20% coupon; the latest Kohl’s mega-sale flyer; etc.). But that birthday card? It stands out!

By the time you walk through the garage on the way to the kitchen, you are actually giddy with anticipation about what the envelope might contain. So after you drop your keys on the counter, give the dog an obligatory pat on the head, and deposit the rest of the mailbox’s contents next to the toaster, you stand there holding a thick envelope that still has yet to yield its gift. But you are already feeling good, even warm with the glow of recognition. Someone cared enough to send this gift days in advance (shocking!) so that it would arrive before your special day. And that matters. You can feel it in your chest.

And if your friends truly value you — and they should, right? — they will have chosen cards that mean something special. They transmit a greeting that is decidedly not anonymous in nature; rather, their humor (or seriousness) reflects directly on you and/or your relationship with that person. Case in point: the card pictured above was chosen for a specific friend, because I know that this person will value the dark colors, the matte finish, the wry humor, and the bats. Yes, the bats. Their presence called to me. I knew my friend had to receive this card — in 2019. Yes, I will safely store it for over six months. Trust me.

Although the card’s interior features a greeting (a short “Happy Birthday,” in this case), it is what I will write that will likely make the biggest impact. Not because my inscription will be profound or hysterical or moving, but because those words will be placed there by my hand, with care, in ink, for my friend’s consideration. And those words will honor our relationship, this person’s uniqueness, and the fact that I feel fortunate to have someone in my life whose significance warrants a physical message of recognition and good cheer.

Unlike a text or a Facebook comment, that physical message can then be stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet, set out on a dresser with other keepsakes, or displayed on the mantel above the fireplace along with other friends’ cards. Together, they say that the recipient is being celebrated, not just his/her birthday. They recognize a person, not just a transitory occasion that occurs every twelve months. And they serve as a palpable physical reminder of intrinsic worth for days, if not weeks.

The next time a friend’s birthday appears on your calendar, remember that people matter. And cards truly deliver.

Note — The word hallmark originated in the early 1700s. It refers to a stamp (or a mark) that was used by the Goldsmiths’ Company of London to identify the level of purity of gold or silver. The hallmark was a physical symbol that recognized a standard of value.

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