News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

December 1, 2011

MARK BENNETT: Holiday season makes going to the mailbox fun again

Ants decided to set up a colony in our family’s mailbox last summer.

Their choice was mystifying. The arch-shaped postal receptacle contained no food. Maybe they saw it as a shelter or some sort of entomological nightclub. Their invasion was disturbing, yet fun in an unusual way. The ants made opening the mailbox door an adventure again. We’d spray bug killer, and they’d disappear for a while. A few days later, we’d pull the door and find the ants were back, swarming the envelopes inside like a scene from “The Mummy.”

These days, trips to the mailbox lack the sense of anticipation baby boomer kids felt while awaiting the delivery of teeth-blackening chewing gum, ordered from the back pages of a comic book. Instead, the daily assortment of mail typically consists of bills, credit-card solicitations and ad fliers. Handwritten letters and postcards are being replaced by Facebook and Twitter updates, e-cards, text messages and Skype chats.

Thus, nobody runs to the mailbox anymore, unless they get some strange thrill from being identified as “current resident.”

But all of that changes during the holidays. The ants disappear in the cold, and — more importantly — Christmas cards brighten up the mail.

Some contain a short greeting, handwritten or professionally printed, or merely a signature below a Hallmark poem. Others include a personal letter, recapping the sender’s past year. A few are “corporate cards,” like those sent by company underlings in the name of Clark Griswold’s cranky boss in “Christmas Vacation.” The most entertaining Christmas cards, though, feature a family photo.

Those pictures — and all of the drama required to arrange them — often earn a spot in the American household museum, the refrigerator door. E-cards can’t match that.

“It’s a fleeting moment when it’s electronic, and it’s a keepsake when it’s a hard-copy,” said Mic Orman, who’s processed and snapped photos for 32 years in Terre Haute.

The value of such a real, ink-and-paper, original Christmas card seems to be re-emerging in 2011 after a decline last year. Orman said customers at his photo shop, Mic’s Pics on Wabash Avenue, are bringing in more photos to adorn holiday greeting cards this season than in 2010, at least at this point. That trend follows a national survey, too.

Sixty-three percent of people surveyed by online marketing firms Zoomerang and Vistaprint said they intend to mail hard-copy Christmas and holiday cards. Of those folks, 66 percent plan to send more physical cards than they did last year, according to the poll. Seventy-four percent figure they won’t use e-cards this time. Likewise, the U.S. Postal Service estimates it will deliver 16.5 billion cards, letters and packages during the Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s-Day period, an increase from 15.8 billion last year.

That return to tradition may be more sentimental than financial.

“I’m not sure that the economy’s any better,” Orman said, “but so many people missed [sending out cards] last year, they’re going back to it this year.”

Yes, Virginia, there is a recession. And, yes, old-school cards, photo processing and stamps cost more than an email or a Facebook posting. But tangible items, especially in this here-today-gone-tomorrow culture, are worth a couple extra bucks. (It’s not a fortune. Half of the people surveyed by Zoomerang estimated they’d spend $25 or less on their Christmas greetings.)

The extra time involved pays off, too. Including a photo with a Christmas card takes time. And patience. Kids may not all want to smile at the same time. The family may not be in the mood for Sunday-best clothes and trying to get the family dog to pose. A little advice from Orman: Don’t be so formal. Try something usual. Let kids react naturally. “Be creative,” Orman said of choosing the right atmosphere. “Go to your favorite family spot. It’s all about the expressions.”

Your favorite vacation picture from last summer might work, especially in the dead of winter when sunshine and heat seem like Aesop’s fables. “It’s a great way to say, ‘This is us on the beach in July — merry Christmas,’” Orman said.

A cool, reversed twist on the “Christmas in July” concept. The card’s recipients might be envious. Then again, an ocean-side Christmas card from a cousin or a friend sure beats a mailbox full of utility bills or ants.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Mark Bennett B-Sides
Latest News Poll
AP Video
Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Malaysia Plane: Ocean Floor Images 'Very Clear' Raw: Bulgarian Monastery Dyes 5000 Easter Eggs Diplomats Reach Deal to Ease Tensions in Ukraine Raw: Pope Francis Performs Pre-easter Ritual Captain of Sunken South Korean Ferry Apologizes Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Raw: Two Lucky Kids Get Ride in Popemobile Sparks Fly With Derulo and Jordin on New Album New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Passengers Abuzz After Plane Hits Swarm of Bees Raw: Royal Couple Visits Australia Mountains Raw: Pro-Russian Militants Killed on Base Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras U.S. Sending Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine Military Raw: Blast at Tennessee Ammunition Plant Kills 1
NDN Video
The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday Don't Be A Tattletale: Bad Bullying Tips For Students The trillest thoughts on marijuana "RHOA" Star Charged With Battery Grizzly Bears Get Snowy Birthday Party Weatherman draws forecast when another technical glitch strikes WGN Elizabeth Olsen's Sexy Shoot Bay Area Teen Gets Prom Date With Help From 'Breaking Bad' Star Boston Bomb Scare Defendant Appears in Court Behind The Tanlines Jersey Strong Part 1

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010