- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Sending Christmas cards is a way to express warmth, love and sometimes outrage. Planned Parenthood's "Choice on Earth" card plays off the biblical proclamation of "Peace on Earth."
The card from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals reminds recipients that both animals and people need love and comfort.
The "Fur: Get Me Not" card from Christina Applegate shows the actress baring her skin for her fuzzy friends.
While some look to rankle and rile with their holiday mailings, researchers at American Greetings Corp. Inc. find that most people want to send a card that makes a statement about who they are. That self-expression, the company says, increasingly incorporates religious themes.
That is why Planned Parenthood's card has drawn such vociferous criticism.
"By replacing 'peace' with 'choice,' Planned Parenthood is essentially saying 'abortion on earth,'" said Jim Sedlak, executive director of the pro-life group Stopp International. "This is an extremely repugnant message to be spreading during the Christmas season."
Such objections are "vicious" and "absurd," responded Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt. The card "sends an inclusive seasonal message for people of all faiths," she says. A religious adviser to the organization also wrote Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, claiming that the Bible shows that "Jesus was not against women having a choice in continuing pregnancy."
The publicity made the cards a hot item: Planned Parenthood printed more cards and created "Choice on Earth" T-shirts, which went on sale Dec. 10.
Planned Parenthood's example is an anomaly in a year when most people seem to want more religion, not less, in their Christmas cards.
"The trend has definitely shifted from the humorous holiday greeting cards to the patriotic and religious," said Tricia Lalim, a representative for Paper Warehouse, based in Minneapolis.
Greeting-card companies have responded by creating more religious designs. The American Greetings line of boxed cards "The Word of Christmas" has expanded nearly 50 percent since its introduction three years ago.
Hallmark's "God bless you at Christmas and always" card, which features a photo of an open Bible, has sold out, as has the company's "Warmth, Peace and Hope" card, which has an angel on the cover and an inscription that reads, "May the Lord watch over you and those you love this Christmas. "
This trend toward the spiritual historically has coincided with the threat of war, said Marianne McDermott, executive vice president of the Greeting Card Association, a trade group in the District. Themes today are reminiscent of those during World War II, she noted.
Tina Benavides, executive director of card planning for American Greetings, sees a similar shift. Religious and spiritual cards have enjoyed increasing popularity since the start of the millennium, she says, but have gained momentum after September 11.
Themes of peace and brotherhood are popular, she notes, but explicitly Christian messages have seen the most growth, even though many businesses, nonprofits and government offices have expurgated religious references from their cards.
These groups, she says, try to avoid offending people, so their missives contain mostly letter art and little Christmas symbolism.
The White House Christmas card simply a reproduction of an oil painting of the 1938 Steinway grand piano in the grand foyer is an example. The message inside quotes Psalm 100:5: "For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations."
"May love and peace fill your heart and home during this holiday season and throughout the new year" is inscribed below the verse.
The New York Times reported that the White House sent out a record 1 million cards this year, compared with 875,000 the Bush administration mailed in 2001. In 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration, 400,000 cards were sent. The article said that the Republican National Committee paid $370,000 to print and send out this year's White House cards.
Even secular news organizations wondered about the lack of White House holiday cheer. "Little about its cover painting ," the Associated Press reported, "save red draperies and flowers, calls the holiday to mind." The story noted that one recipient mistook the card for a Thanksgiving greeting.
Some universities followed suit. Syracuse University in New York sent 3,000 cards showing an abstract brass sculpture. Samford University in New York sent cards showing a night sky illuminated by one bright star in a photo from the school's planetarium. California State University at Long Beach showed a group of students on a beach clustered by a papier-mache snowman.
The Alliance of Concerned Men, a group that works with troubled youths in the District, also avoids sectarian allusions. An abstract depiction of a Christmas tree and the word "Greetings" adorn the front of the card. Inside, the inscription reads: "There is no time more fitting to say thank you and to wish you a Happy Holiday Season and a New Year of health, happiness and prosperity."
"I think my corporate clients prefer the more generic 'happy holiday' cards because of the sensitivity of peoples' religions, race and even gender," says Brian Fried, owner of YourCardStore.com, based in Hauppauge, N.Y. Religiously neutral cards comprise 75 percent of his sales, he says.
Americans send more than 2 billion Christmas cards every year, and the average household sends and receives 28, a Hallmark study has found.
Ms. McDermott is convinced that cards play a crucial role in American culture as a point of contact between people. She even has called on a cultural anthropologist to testify about their importance before the Postal Rate Commission.
"Cards, and especially Christmas cards," she says, "bind the nation together."

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