Do you collect greeting cards?  Some are like little artworks, so beautiful to look at.  Some have funny little remarks that make us laugh, others touch our hearts.  When you find that perfect card for someone, it's often wise to snap it up and have it on hand for whenever the appropriate occasion arises.

At Figg Street Co., people sometimes tell me that they're not sure of what to write in a card.  So I thought we'd have a little Tuesday's Tonic series here on greeting cards.  Let's start with birthdays.

Make it personal.

A birthday can be a wonderful excuse to show some love for a special person in our life.  When selecting a card, consider the person celebrating their birthday: what sorts of things do they like?  Do they have favourite colours, motifs, or a specific style?  Perhaps it's a milestone birthday.  Are they celebrating their bar or bat mitzvah?

When considering what to write, it's always best when you speak from the heart.  Take a few minutes for yourself and take a few deep breaths.  Think about the birthday person.  If they're a baby or toddler, your relationship is likely through one or both of their parents.  So think about them, too. 

What are the qualities that make this person special?  What characteristics do you like and perhaps even admire? What feelings come up in you?  Do you have specific wishes for them?  Writing about any of this will be personal dna specific to your relationship.  It will be felt by the reader when they receive your card.

It's about them.

When it comes to birthdays, the celebration is about the person who is having a birthday, so it may seem obvious, but make your message about them.  Sadly, I've heard stories about people who've received birthday cards where they opened it up to discover of a list of other people's birthdays during the same month listed in their card, or a reminder about someone else's birthday as the focus of the message.  There's a time and place for everything, but other people's birthdays... it's not here.

Make sure a birthday card... is a birthday card.

On a related note, keep your message to the occasion at hand.  That is, resist any urge you may have to combine holidays or events.  For example, if someone's birthday is close to a popular holiday, such as Christmas, they may be especially appreciative of you acknowledging their birthday rather than lumping it together with the holidays. 

A note about age.

Another thing to keep in mind is the relative age of the birthday person.  While children's birthdays are easy enough to acknowledge and celebrate (Hurray!  Today you're seven!), people can have vastly different outlooks on ageing and birthdays when they're well into double digits. 

It's easy to be thoughtless and keep a lot of unhealthy sayings circulating in our culture without realizing it.  For instance, assuming anyone over 29 is ashamed of their age.  Writing a message inside such as, "Happy 29th Birthday!" to someone who's clearly older insinuates that it is preferable to be 29 than their actual age.  It can also assume that the birthday person should be embarrassed about how old they are.

While ageing jokes are popular in funny birthday cards, consider the recipient and your relationship.  Is it someone you know very well?  Are they good-humoured? Are you making assumptions?  Good friends poke fun at each other about ageing in their birthday cards, especially when they're of similar ages; however, it may not make a great impression on a daughter-in-law or a casual acquaintance with a serious/sensitive nature.

Overall, writing a birthday card message is something to enjoy.  If you're worried about what to say, keep it simple.  Stick to the topic of the reader and this celebratory event.  Compliment them, if it's genuine.  As long as you speak from the heart and write with good intentions, it will be well received.

And while we think it's always good to check ourselves and consider our audience, we also appreciate a good quip about ageing and life experience among friends.  Who better than Betty White to deliver these lines when she was on Hot in Cleveland: "In your 20s, you dress for men.  In your 40s you dress for success.  In your 80s you dress for the bathroom!".  Don't we all miss her?

January 16, 2024 — Antoinette D'Angelo

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