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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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Keep the cause, junk the junk

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Don’t try to sell me Christmas cards. I’m all stocked up. Not only on holiday greeting cards, but return address labels, gift tags and other paraphernalia festooned with “seasonal” graphics: evergreen boughs, doves, red and white caps, chubby men with white beards, diminutive men with pointy ears, snowflakes, cross-shaped stars, reindeer, and so forth. Nothing overtly religious, like a crèche or nativity scene – just, well, seasonal.

It’s not an identity crisis. I didn’t buy any of this stuff. The items simply appear, unrequested, in my mailbox, beginning early November and continuing for about two months. The return addresses vary, but, so far as I can tell, none of this holiday cache comes from religious institutions clamouring for my conversion.

Like most folks these days, I rarely get mail any more. People who write me personal letters use email. Perhaps I receive the occasional birthday or anniversary card, but even these, increasingly, reach me via the Internet. Some bills show up, but these, too, mostly arrive electronically. This time of year, however, my postal box is often filled to overflowing.

That’s because most often, what comes to my physical mailbox are solicitations from charitable organizations. Most of them are worthy, and they need funding to further such important things as medical research, education, peace, and tolerance, and to fight such things as poverty, hunger, inequality and homelessness. And since the “holiday season” coincides with the fiscal year end, it’s clearly a propitious time to ask high and low rollers to open up their hearts and purses.

There is an art and a tradition that shapes mass-mailing solicitation, and it’s rare this time of year to receive a request accompanied only by a description of the cause. Instead, bulging envelopes outstrip the holding capacity of our postal box – envelopes containing unasked for “holiday gifts.” The sender (or their marketing advisers) clearly hope that, reminded of the “holiday spirit,” I will be overcome by the imperative of “goodwill toward men” and other “seasonal” slogans and that I will feel obligated to “pay” the sender for these gifts with a contribution to the cause.

I’ve put words such as “holiday” and “season” in quotation marks, because, although that’s the generic language used in these campaigns, the pitch is centred on Christmas and the rituals associated with it. In our household, this kind of stuff goes straight to the recycling bin. Then we evaluate the appended solicitations based on merit.

But this year, I decided to do something different. I tossed the whole packet, contribution card and all. I’m not wiping these causes off my list permanently, but I don’t want to add to the statistics of positive responses to this particular way of soliciting.

Canada is a diverse country. So many people who support cancer or diabetes research or homeless shelters or children in need don’t celebrate Christmas. It seems to me that the varied traditions of the givers deserves if not respect, then at least acknowledgment. Calling it a “holiday season” doesn’t quite suffice.

Canada is also a country that values the environment, and there is no need to feed an already glutted recycling bin. Even my Christian friends toss most of the “holiday” stuff that arrives in their mailboxes. Most people like to choose the cards they send, or they send greetings via the Internet. Many of us print out envelopes via our computers, so we rarely need to affix return address labels. And it would be nice to think that more of the contributed funds go to the cause, rather than to printing out this stuff.

I wonder how much direct-mail marketing is based on outdated research that hasn’t yet caught up with the demographics and social media habits of 21st-century Canada. I’m not suggesting printing even more unrequested stuff in an attempt to capture all of the religions and ethnicities of this country. Let the causes speak instead of trying to rope in contributions with cheesy gifts.

So have a festive and illuminated Chanukah, and deploy your Chanukah gelt in ways that would make the Rambam proud!

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