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3 February 2010
Greeting cards and valentines as cultural artifact

It’s simple really, just ritual and folded paper, bit of artwork, a perfect slogen, a joke, a sentiment, a signature. With greeting cards and (come mid-February, valentines) the medium is the message and the message is generally, slogan or no, “I got you a card.” But what do the cards we send and recieve (or feel like we ought to send, or wish we’d recieved) say about the relationships that occasion them? The long-running Hallmark motto says their cards are for “When you care enough to send the very best”—a message that has as much to do with the sender’s ideas about himself as those about his recipient. The Dayspring line of Christian greeting cards (purchased a few years back by the Hallmark company) is more ambitious, motto-wise: “Connecting people with the heart of God through messages of hope and encouragement. Every day. Everywhere.” Can a piece of creased cardboard (or its e-equivalent) really be all that? Perhaps not, but as they say it’s the thought that counts. So: what do you all think?

—Nate Barksdale
(thanks to Jay and Christy for the suggestion)

1. What do greeting cards and valentines assume about the way the world is?

People who can read & write (or draw cute pictures); availability of paper, pens, etc.



Ritual & tradition are more important than we Westerners like to admit.

We desperately long to be accepted. - this is the 1 day we are reassured of our status in the eyes of our beloved(s).


Greeting cards- That we are comfortable with expressing our feelings by spending less than 5 minutes browsing the Hallmark section at Target and buying a card for $2-5 that we feel either a.) sums up our true feelings for someone else b.) will fill the obligatory social norms of our day c.) will amuse the receiver of the card for the going rate of about $2 a minute d.) amuse yourself as the receiver stares in disbelief at the confusion the card creates (my personal favorite).
If one were to sit down and write a card to someone, I doubt it would even need to rhyme, it would probably be more meaningful to the receiver, but our culture does not seem comfortable with such vulnerability.

Valentines- I am not sure about this holiday. It seems to exist out of continued tradition and marketing. In my five years of marriage, I feel less romantic and more obligated on Feb. 14. We have birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and every other day to show someone else how much we care about them. And it is a cruel reminder to those who are without someone to the fact they are without someone.
Sorry to be bahumbug on Valentines, but it seems like a terrible time to eat out, with nothing but obligations to eat out. Obligations to by flowers, when flowers are inflated. And to remind you of social norm that is not okay to be alone. Valentines=Obligation. Romance=Freedom to express love for each other.

Jay Walker
2. What do greeting cards and valentines assume about the way the world should be?

Sometimes cards assume the world should be more connected, more effusive with love and language. And a little slower.

Sometimes they assume a certain measure of responsibility to maintain placid relationships with some paper and postage.

Maybe sometimes they even assume people’s hearts are easily bought or manipulated.


Greeting cards- some person somewhere else should be able to universally sum up how I feel about a loved one.

Valentines- You should not be alone. And if you are not, you should appreciate the other person more. Again, seems guilt driven.

Jay Walker
3. What do greeting cards and valentines make possible?

In a tech-connected world, cards make possible something truly special: communicating a person’s worth through the combination of time, money and thought it takes to send a (real) card.

If I receive an email, I know that person thought about me the moment they sent the email. If I receive a card, I know that person thought about me more, with more depth and care. An encouraging email is a treat. An encouraging card gets taped to filing cabinet.


Greeting cards- comfortable levels of affection with out be to involved or vulnerable.

Valentines- A huge card, chocolate, dinning out, and flower industry. And (to not be so rough on the holiday) an excuse to go all out on the one you love.

Jay Walker
4. What do greeting cards and valentines make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

Perhaps the valentine/card business makes more difficult spontaneous communication of love and appreciation, since there always seems to be another, official reason to buy & send a card.


Using language that’s alive, fresh - free of cliches…how do we begin to express our love for our loved ones w/o falling into the trap of greeting card vernacular?

For both- Sincere, heartfelt, obligation-free affection for those you love on Feb. 14.

Jay Walker
5. What new culture is created in response?

Is Hallmark a culture? Surely greeting card stores and even aisles are a little culture unto themselves, where puns are passed off as deep humor and we seem to be able to redefine the trite as “that’s a nice thought.”

Valentine’s Day in 3rd grade is its own little culture, too. Give and collect. See who has the most.

More positively: cards have been a part of the culture that exists between my wife and I. We speak our own language, share the same shorthand of stories and never need to sign anything with more than “I love you.”


Anna Howard Shaw Day!

Jay Walker