The celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations are joyous occasions in our lives. Uniting for the sake of recognizing a special person or relationship can evoke smiles and tears. But as family and friends gather around to open cards and gifts, the reality begins to emerge: our loved ones offer little more than empty clichés and pieces of paper with pictures of dead white men on the front. Here are some reasons we need to re-think the ways we celebrate important events, and a couple of suggestions for the future.
Opening More Than Just Our Wallets
Consumer capitalism perpetuates the idea that money and happiness are synonymous. While money certainly paves the way, it is not the only route to the Promised Land. We need to rid ourselves of the notion that simply inserting cash or a check into a card is sufficient. This passive, short-hand action overlooks the full range of human needs that currency fails to address.
For example, we all have a need to be recognized and feel important. But handing someone a gift card to a restaurant and walking away does not address these needs. Such a gesture sends the message: you eat, I eat, but we do not eat together. The most (in)valuable resource of all is time. It would be much better to invite them out to dinner and pay for it! But then, people would actually have to make eye contact and conversation for more than a few minutes. Oh no, how frightening! The unwillingness to do this in most cases stems, I imagine, from a fear of affection. Opening our wallets is not the same as opening our hearts. Let’s try to do the latter more often!
Signed, Sealed, and Plagiarized
Most people have gotten into the habit of purchasing ready-made cards from the supermarket. The words are then, as Stevie Wonder said, “signed, sealed, and delivered” to a very special person or persons.
The problem here is that the content is not original. Since every relationship is different, the person most qualified to address your deepest feelings is you. The words of a nameless and faceless stranger who sits in a cubicle miles away are a poor substitute for your own. Purchasing cards and scribbling your name at the bottom reflects a lack of faith in expressing your own thoughts. Not to mention the fact that attempting to describe a complex relationship with words off a conveyor belt can be insulting to the card’s recipient.
Anyone who has attended school has heard the teacher or professor lecture about the importance of academic honesty. Students are taught that they should never pass someone else’s work off as their own, or they will be guilty of plagiarism. Remember: when we buy a card written by another person, we are taking credit for their ideas. This is a textbook case of plagiarism! We allow our loved ones to give us hugs and kisses in reaction to the card; but never once do we stop them to suggest that they should thank Hallmark instead.
Buying cards is just downright lazy. All we have to do is stroll on over to aisle 9 and select a card from categories based on relationship and circumstance. A typical defense is that people buy cards because they are busy. This is nonsense. The time wasted driving to the store, searching for the “perfect” card, and waiting in line at the check-out counter is better spent creating your own card!
We need to re-learn how to express ourselves with the innocence of children again. Children do not buy gifts, they make them. When my siblings and I were younger, we did not have the money, of course, to purchase birthday cards or presents. So what did we do when Mommy’s birthday rolled around? We grabbed our crayons and construction paper, and drew pictures. Every year, my mother would receive many cards – but only those of her children would make her cry, and be hung up on the refrigerator.
Remember the cards and gifts you gave as a child the next time there is a celebration!