A mix-up with Christmas cards results in an embarrassing situation.
Example: [The Independent, 2000]
Never believe a story that begins: "Let me tell you something which really, truly, happened to a friend of a friend." It will almost certainly be an urban myth. And yet there is something irresistible about such stories, because there is always just that faint possibility that they might contain a seedling of truth.
Now, let me tell you something which really, truly happened to a friend of a friend, last Christmas. Her friend is a busy advertising executive and ran out of time to buy presents for family and close friends. So instead she decided to enclose some rather generous cheques with her Christmas cards, scribbling the message: "Have a lovely Christmas but, if you don't mind, buy your own present this year!"
A little impersonal, but actually fairly practical, she thought. Except that a week or so into January, having not received the customary thank-yous from her relatives and friends, she found all the cheques in a drawer. In the rush, she had neglected to enclose them.
When it comes to dealing with our culture's biggest holiday, one can't cut corners without risking disaster, says this legend. The story of the misplaced checks serves to warn us that the shortest route is also the one most fraught with danger.
Gift-giving is an integral part of the holiday season, and one is expected to expend not just money on the endeavor, but time and effort too. To write a check or enclose money in a card is to distill the process down to only one aspect of the tradition, arguably the least important. One, in
effect, puts an explicit pricetag on a relationship, making a cold but straightforward assessment of that person's worth in the giver's life. It is for this reason etiquette frowns upon the practice — though
the cash might be welcome, the lack of sentiment behind the present is not.
Especially at Christmastime, a gift of cash is seen as an expression of all that's worst of the season: what is supposed to be the joyous, openhearted process of delighting loved ones with treasures secretly longed for is debased into the sterile discharge of a social obligation — one
might as well write in the card, "I had to get you something, so this is it." Our legend serves to underscore the importance of making time for the people we value instead of shortchanging them, and it permits no excuses in this regard, not even those of being very busy or very important. As the executive in the story learns when she attempts to cut corners, what (she thought) had been a time-saving act of caring and generosity is received and understood — literally — as
the empty gesture it always was.
One further element of the tale deserves comment: the sex of the transgressor. Traditionally, during the holidays, our culture stresses activities which are still seen as more a woman's province than a man's. Cooking, decorating, baking, shopping, card and letter-writing, entertaining, and
concern for others are at the forefront of the season, and whereas a man who fails to do well with any of these barely provokes comment, a woman is seen as having fallen from grace much more ingloriously if she comes up short with any of them. The busy executive in the story thus has to be a woman for the transgression to be perceived as utterly embarrassing because a man who failed to enclose the checks wouldn't make for nearly as horrifying a tale. Moreover, the story contains an element of punishment for women leaving traditional duties behind in favor of competing in the business world. Working outside the home may cause them to have less time for family and friends, thus legends like this serve to warn women against taking up such lives by pointing out what could be lost or compromised.
Another tale that turned up in our inbox in 2003 works the same side of the street by using a different mailing mix-up
to play upon the underlying theme about women's suitability for the workforce:
Catherine, a registered nurse, was unhappy with her job, so she submitted her resignation. She was sure she'd have no trouble finding a new position, because of the nursing shortage in her area. She e-mailed cover letters to dozens of potential employers and attached her résumé to each one. Two weeks later, Catherine was dismayed and bewildered that she had not received even one request for an interview.
Finally she received a message from a prospective employer that explained the reason she hadn't heard from anyone else. It read: "Your résumé was not attached as stated. I do, however, want to thank you for the vegetable lasagna recipe."
Barbara "bringing home the bakin'" Mikkelson
5 December 2013
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