Christmas cards sure are telling this year.
After years of glitzy, material-oriented greeting cards, reports the Wall Street Journal, this year's cards are sentimental, nostalgic and heartfelt.
Christmas cards are a big business, you see. Card companies go to elaborate lengths to tune into what people are thinking and feeling. Boy, are people thinking differently this year than last.
During the 2007 Christmas season, consumer excess was in. The trend was to feature stacks of gifts and shopping bags filled with lots of stuff.
But this year it's back to the old traditions: cookie-baking, tree trimming, Santa, snowmen, frosted windows, cozy fireplaces, family togetherness and people holding hands.
Even months before the housing bubble burst and the stock market crashed, American Greetings Corp. noticed the new trend. As gas and food prices soared, the optimism of 2007 was quickly giving way to uncertainty about the future.
And now that our financial system has melted down and a recession is in high gear, people -- and, consequently, Christmas cards -- are focusing more on family and friends. They're reminiscing about simpler, happier days.
And it's about time.
Why is it we have to lose much of what we have, have to hit rock bottom, before we refocus on the simple, important things that are what really matter in life?
Most of the people I know who grew up during the Depression have told me the same story: that they had no idea they were poor.
In the city neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, where my parents grew up, families were together, neighbors were close, people watched out for each other. Life was surely a struggle, but it wasn't without its upsides.
People had fewer choices -- they had less stuff to distract them -- and therefore enjoyed a greater wealth of the spirit. Friendliness, kindness, compassion and laughter were a measure of that wealth.
Those children of the Depression became parents during the '50s, '60s and '70s. By their measure, they enjoyed tremendous economic good fortune during their adult years -- stability, modest homes, the ability to provide for their families and save enough dough to retire.
My father worked hard to bring home money while my mother stayed home to watch over us and conserve money. We never had the material things we thought we wanted, but we had an abundance of everything we needed -- love, togetherness and parents who sacrificed everything so we could do well in life.
My sisters and I are doing well in life and every day my parents enjoy huge dividends on their investment -- just as millions of parents from that era have done.
That brings us to the children who grew up during the '50s, 60s and 70s. As adults, during the last 25 years, we've enjoyed a period of unimaginable financial wealth. We haven't managed it very well though.
I think of so many single people in Washington, D.C., where I lived for eight years, who drive BMW's and live in luxury condos completely isolated from family. Or the parents who work long hours to lavish their kids with money, clothes and cars -- when all their kids really want or need are their presence and their love.
Too many of us in recent times have had everything we think we want, but so little of what we really need.
Well, much of our material wealth is gone now -- but gone with it is the noise, distraction and isolation material wealth, poorly managed and applied, can bring.
And so, as this year's Christmas cards suggest, we are finally getting back to our senses.
We're longing for the simpler, more traditional times of our childhood -- when our parents lived within their means, always planned for a rainy day and retained a clear sense of what was and wasn't important in life.
I remember sitting around the tree on Christmas morning surrounded by my parents, my five sisters, our dog Jingles and a handful of modest gifts, while all of us were immersed in laughter, togetherness, security and love.
Now there's an idea for a Christmas card.
- Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by CagleCartoons newspaper syndicate.