Thursday, December 30, 2004

Hallmark, you kill me.

I don’t know what it is about certain brands and the notions people get about their supposed superiority. I have always thought that Hallmark was the manufacturer of everything associated with gifts. Years of Hallmark-this, Hallmark-that, receiving cards with the original brand crossed out and replaced with a handwritten Hallmark (a joke perhaps?), and commercials of people checking the back of cards for the golden crown have given me the impression that Hallmark is the biggest and the best. I’ve never been a brand-whore – all right that may be a lie, but aren’t we all brand-whores at heart? To be more specific, I’ve never been able to afford to be picky with brands, but when I went shopping for Christmas cards this year, my first stop was Hallmark.

Whether or not Hallmark is a name brand, one would think that Hallmark has the biggest selection of quality designs. One would think it would be the “one-stop” for all things gifts – cards, wrapping paper, et cetera. I was wrong, and I was very disappointed with their selection. Only a few of the designs were attractive, most were non-descript, easily forgotten, and not very pleasing to the eye. Most were ugly, in other words. I managed to pick out two or three acceptable boxes, but when I opened the box (to the chagrin of the lady at the counter, who came over and scared the shit out of me) to read the inside message, I was served my second scare of the day.

The inside messages lie on the farthest end of the cheesy spectrum. They weren’t the regular Christmas cheese, but the far out, “who the hell wrote this”, “I don’t know whether I should giggle or do something drastic like stick the whole card in my mouth so no one else will have to read it”, kind. I may be exaggerating slightly, but imagine yourself at a crowded Hallmark store, a little disoriented and dizzy because you took two finals earlier in the day, trying to pick a nice and not too flashy set of cards that you can give to friends and teachers. The cards have to be pretty but not cute, formal but not overly so, maybe slightly playful but no Santas, of the Christmas spirit but not so that you can’t give it to your Jewish friends. And lastly, you prefer cards that contain brief and general messages on the inside, or none at all.

I didn’t think it would be that hard. Of the designs I picked, each of them had an inside message running at least four lines long. I debated for a while, but I just couldn’t give an instructor a card that read something like “as snowflakes fall gently on your skin, the warmth of this season envelopes you like a soft blanket. May you celebrate this joyful season with loved ones and surround yourself with glorious songs. May your heart be set aglow with the hundred small and beautiful ways this season shines, and your stomachs full of the wonderful nourishment this holiday brings.”

I can’t remember the passages so I’m not capturing the mood exactly, but you get the idea. What happened to the simple “Merry Christmas”, “Seasons Greetings”, or “Happy Holidays”? Must every card appear be filled with long messages and leave little room for you to write your own? To be extremely honest, I used to love the cheesy rhyming messages when I was little, and this is embarrassing to admit, but I even copied the messages unto cards that didn’t have them. Things have changed. I ended up buying two packages from Unisef, whose messages are always brief and in different languages. When I ran out, I went to the VanDusen Botanical Garden gift shop and found an extremely nice (and overpriced) box of cards. They were unique and artsy, with four images of a melting snowman. Next year: no Hallmark.

In case I’m coming across as anal, let me tell you that when I receive cards, I am extremely happy and thankful and love whatever I receive. I am never judgmental and I don’t get any of that “how cheesy” feeling I’ve grown accustomed to when I buy cards for others. Most of the cards I received this Christmas were from Hallmark and I loved every single one of them. If you’ve given me a Hallmark card this Christmas, let me assure you, I loved it, and I thank you, and please, don’t be worried when you buy cards next year, because I’m only like that when I buy cards for others, and I don't think other people care what the original message is. I guess I just don’t feel comfortable purchasing cards with cheesy messages, but totally fine when they’re given to me.

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