Keeping up with (or, more accurately, staying ahead of) the Joneses has always been taxing: Their house, their automobiles, but now . . . their Christmas cards?
Holiday greetings have become the latest medium for one-upmanship, as shoppers scour East Valley bookstores, Hallmark stores and paper shops for the perfect card — one that says not only "Happy holidays" but also "Try to top this!"
(Editorial disclosure: I am no stranger to this phenomenon: Five years ago my cards featured a slightly blurry sketch of Frosty the Snowman, which came into crystal-clear 3D focus when viewed with the pair of red-and-blue glasses inside. Friends still talk about them, and the bar’s now set impossibly high.)
Most folks who buy their cards at the dollar store are strangers to this concept, the quest for the ultimate in holiday cards that ascribes mystical powers of cool to the sender. Their nod to holiday glitter ends at the post office, if they remember to ask for Christmas stamps instead of the usual 37-cent flags.
It starts off innocently enough — in November for most, when stores start setting out Christmas cards, but the well-organized may be inflicted as early as September, when custom orders are usually taken.
Nobody says they’re buying cards specifically to dazzle their friends.
"I don’t think they come out and say it," said Ashley Nicoll at M & Co. Papery, a store in downtown Mesa whose entire stock constitutes the stuff of paperrelated one-upmanship, from cards to invitations to gift wrap. "But they allude to it."
Which explains why cards by Claudia Calhoun are selling well at M & Co., despite the $35.99 price — for eight. (They’re heavy and oversized, which means extra postage, too.)
Store owner Marlene Dunn said customers often have "A, B and C lists": They want a fantastic card they’re willing to spend a little more for — but only for certain people on their list. (Other people get greetings further down the card chain.)
Dunn herself used to buy two different designs but ended up struggling to decide who got "which cute card," so now she sticks to one variety. She is, however, having trouble deciding which one is the perfect choice.
"The stationery and cards that you send are an extension of who you are," Dunn said.