DEAR MISS MANNERS: The tradition of Christmas cards is slipping away: We have no time to write them, it costs too much to send them, and they are ultimately thrown into a landfill. Somebody has suggested a telephone call to everyone on the Christmas card list, observing "people will enjoy it more" and the money would be put to use elsewhere.
All true, as far as it goes, but a couple of points in favor of an old-fashioned, pretty card:
One of the joys my brothers and I share when we visit our parents during the holidays is a leisurely browse through the holiday cards they receive. A phone call would be nice -- but the card touches more than the person who answers the phone. Many old family friends and even relatives don't stay in regular touch with the extended family -- but Mom and Dad will get cards from out-of-town great-aunts, etc., who we rarely hear from except at Christmastime. Even the much-derided "mass letter" is a treat (I think the derision comes from cynics who don't want to write them, more than folks who don't want to read them).
On the other hand, folks who only send cards to people who send THEM cards should probably stop sending any cards at all. If holiday greetings are meted out as rewards for good behavior, they're a little insincere, aren't they? Or am I just lost in Irving Berlin Land?
GENTLE READER: You were fine until you got to the part about it being insincere to stop pouring greetings into a void. Miss Manners, who practices charity toward all, assumes that one can be sincere and even jolly-spirited without feeling the urge to spread greetings to people who never greet back. Even those people might be sincere, jolly-spirited folk who are racking their brains trying to remember who their greeters are.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: All our sons are married and I want to write out one Christmas check to each couple, addressed to "Mr. and Mrs." My wife has insisted that we give the sons a check addressed to them individually and that we write a separate -- and substantially smaller -- check (totaling about 4 percent of what we gave the boys) to each of their wives.
Since all the boys are happily married and we know the money will go into one pot, I don't understand why we would send a separate check that carried with it a potentially insulting or belittling message. My wife argues that since it all went into one pot, it didn't make a difference.
I believe it does make a difference. After all, she does not work outside the home, but I would never suggest that the gift was just from me, since I, technically, earned the money. Although the couples each end up with $200 more when we take my wife's approach, I feel that writing just one check to the couple is, ultimately, more generous. What is your opinion?
GENTLE READER: That if your sons are happily married, you should not behave as if you were worried that the daughters-in-law could get their hands on the money in defiance of their husbands or in divorce settlements. What Miss Manners finds worse is the clear statement of worth you assign your sons, and the discounted rate you put on their wives.