Digital Christmas cards just don’t do it for me.

I can appreciate the speed and ease (and saving of trees) that eCards offer, but for me a Christmas card in the hand is worth two in the inbox.

I love receiving Christmas cards:

I love the family pictures that are often included (not “pics,” people — please). I love the yearly summaries that some folks write — though I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to get a letter that touched honestly on the year’s low points rather than the hard-to-top highlights: “Bobby flunked out of school this year and Susie is in trouble again with the law — but we’re muddling through. Merry Christmas from our family to yours.” I’d actually take some comfort from a card like that.

I’ve lived in a lot of places during the last 25+ years and when I get a Christmas card from, say, Tranquility, New Jersey or Mount Olive, North Carolina, memories come flooding back. I think of the Schuberts who were so kind to us, or Miss Tillie who made us a beautiful quilt — even if they’re not the ones who sent the card.

I like to read through the cards all season long — till Christmas ends on January 5th. For the cards that arrived in the mail just after Thanksgiving, it’s like reading them for the first time on Twelfth Night. And I’ve been known to save Christmas cards from year to year, tied in bundles, and to retrieve them from the attic in June or July for another nostalgic read-through, glass of sweet tea in hand.

And I love sending Christmas cards:

I love picking them out at stationery stores and book shops. I like cards printed on high quality vellum (there’s nothing like the feel of a good pen on good paper) with beautiful artwork and a simple message. I don’t mind “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings.” I agree with Jon Stewart that the “war on Christmas” protests (“Jesus’ birthday is under attack by godless liberals!”) always seem to come from the same perpetually-disgruntled people who go out of their way to be offended by nothing. Lighten up, folks — it’s Christmas!

I don’t like overtly “religious” Christmas cards because I’m not trying to communicate an overtly “religious” message by sending one. I want to tell Dick and Joan how much I miss them; I want Nola to know that she’s a true and constant friend; Diane needs to hear that she’s got a ridiculous number of people supporting her through her ordeal with cancer. It’s about friendship: taking the time, this busy time of year, to say something — just a little something — to people who’ve meant something to you in the short- or long-run of your life.

But the times they are a-changin’. I don’t know what the statistics are or what Hallmark’s sales figures would indicate, but I know that I get fewer and fewer Christmas cards every year. Email and social media are the biggest culprits, of course  — we’re connected all year long, exchanging messages, posting up-to-the-minute pictures. There’s less news to share in December if you’ve been maintaining regular status updates all year on Facebook. And if you do want to send a special Christmas greeting, the electronic versions are pretty jazzy.

But I’m sticking with the cards and envelopes and stamps; with the ritual of going through an address book that tells many stories: who moved and where to; who got divorced; who has died. I’m going to continue crafting simple expressions of gratitude and a wish for a season of peace and blessing for my friends — old and new — even if I get a little sentimental sometimes.

And I’ll continue looking for cards in the mail every December, mindful that fewer will come, but thankful nonetheless for the chance to reconnect with friends — seeing Anna’s familiar handwriting (eCards can’t touch that) and marveling (while holding a real photograph in my hand) at how much the Hines kids have grown this year.