Are we about to see the last gasp of the Christmas card? It seems incredible, but then who could have foreseen that "cassette player" would be removed from the dictionary as a consequence of its obsolescence?

Are we about to see the last gasp of the Christmas card? It seems incredible, but then who could have foreseen that "cassette player" would be removed from the dictionary as a consequence of its obsolescence?

Much as I love getting Jacquie Lawson animated e-cards on my computer, there is nothing quite like holding a Christmas card in my hands. (For those who haven't seen them, Jacquie Lawson is an incredible English artist who combines beauty with whimsy in animated cards — Google her.)

Some years back, my mother and I were sorting through my grandmother's things after she died. I found a stash of old Christmas cards from the 1940s and '50s that she had saved. I found them interesting for their very different graphic designs and small sizes. When I showed them to my mother, though, they became little totems of her life.

"This one's from Mary," Mom said. "She and my mother were best friends all their life, since first grade."

I had never known my grandmother's best friend or thought about her having one.

"And this is from the Rossis," Mom said, turning over a country scene. "They lived three doors down. They had two sons. The youngest was in my class, Patrick. I kind of liked him — he was really smart and very sweet. He was killed in the war."

Someone my mom liked before my dad? Could my future have been entirely different if the war hadn't intervened?

I have my own stash of Christmas cards that were just too pretty to throw away. I started thinking about a way of using them, and it occurred to me that they would make perfect place mats for Christmas dinners.

I took my idea and some cards to Scrappy Craft: The Artist Attic in Phoenix. The owner, DeLila Barnett, helped me put my concept together.

I started with white, student-grade, watercolor paper cut into 12-by-18-inch pieces. Two dollars buys a sheet exactly the right size for two place mats. Then Barnett brought out an assortment of colored papers to use as backgrounds. Because the colored papers are a foot square, we had to piece them, but prices start at 10 cents a paper. You could also use Christmas wrap.

I selected the cards for each mat by themes: Santa, animals, country scenes, etc. Barnett stressed putting cards with complementary colors together. Then we selected background papers picking up at least one of the colors.

Next, I trimmed all the cards and papers. While this can be done with scissors or an X-ACTO knife and ruler, Barnett showed me how to use the new, small paper-cutters. I cut the fronts off all the cards so the mats wouldn't be too thick to go through a laminator.

Barnett brought out something that looked like a small tape dispenser to glue the pieces together.

"It's a new glue called Sticky Thumb glue. The thing that's nice about it is it works really well with no mess," she said. "The longer it sits, the stronger it gets, so there is time to reposition if you are off just a little."

We had to be conscious of the center 12 inches holding a plate, so we spaced the cards a little to show around the sides of the plate.

When everything was glued down, I took them to FedEx Office, where they have a large laminator. Scrappy Craft's wasn't quite large enough, though Barnett suggested it also was possible to cover the mats with clear, contact shelf paper.

I learned at the office center that I had put some of the cards too close together. The machine needs 1/2 inch between elements to make a really good seal. But it worked.

Barnett suggested writing the names of the senders next to the cards with silver or gold pens or a complementary color. And there are all kinds of possible embellishments: ribbons and threads, stamps, fancy hole-punches or edgers.

You could make a place mat with only cards sent by grandparents or Aunt Jessie to keep at the holiday table after they have passed on. And your great-grandchildren might be enchanted that once there were actually paper Christmas cards.