Friday, December 20, 2013

Got Your Christmas Cards
in the Mail Yet?

Coming home a week before the big day cramps my holiday style. There are Christmas cards yet to get in the mail.

The mail…thinking of the ailing mail delivery system, I wonder: Does the Post Office need the holidays like retail stores need a Black Friday? Does the season define the business’ bottom line?

I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Christmas cards for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my mother would take all the cards we’d get—beginning with that first arrival right after Thanksgiving weekend from some grown-up Teacher’s Pet—and tape them to the pine banister at one end of our living room.

I’d count to see how many cards we received for the year—and how it lined up with the previous year’s count. And then, I’d look at the names.

Some names were familiar, like names of aunts and uncles and other relatives we didn’t see often. Back then, my grandparents and my Columbus aunt figured in that group.

But there were others—lots of others. Many were from families of students taught by my father in his music studio. Some were people I knew from our church. Others were business associates known only to my father. I’d usually have to ask my mother about those.

“Who’s Rudy VallĂ©e?” I’d ask my mom. I thought that was a funny name to have. All I knew was it wasn’t anyone I had met before. And she would explain that he was someone my dad had once worked with, in that world of live performances and stage personalities. My dad had either arranged some music for him once, or played in a band with him—whatever the reason, from that time forward, we received a Christmas card from the man with a brief note in his own hand, sending personal greeting.

If only I had known…

I did get to saving Christmas letters after a while, when I was all grown up and on my own. Even though I knew these notes were machine duplicated—not those hand-written exercises of a bygone letter-writing era—I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. I set up a folder in my file cabinet and labeled it “Family Christmas Letters.” I made it my January ritual to stuff every family member’s mimeographed brag sheet into that folder.

Someday, I thought, I’d pull them all out, sort them by date into family groupings, and transcribe each set. What a running commentary on the unfolding timeline of family life for each branch of our extended family that would be!

Eventually, I bought a house of my own, and like my mother before me, found a spot on the far wall of my living room where I could post all the Christmas cards sent our way.

Some years, we get many. Some years, only a few. The ebb and flow of the aggregate for each season tells a story of its own—some years, life seems better than other years.

I found a little booklet among my aunt’s belongings the other day. It was an address book labeled, “Christmas Card List.” I took a look through it, wondering who peopled the merry seasons of my aunt’s life—wondering if, among all the many friends she had, there would be any whose names I recognized.

That brief journey through the Christmas Card Lists of the past put me in mind of the many faces flowing past us over the years. Like so much water under a bridge, friendships seem so transient anymore. Connections vaporize with the shifting of the slightest of circumstances.

Handwritten letters during the holidays are now replaced by computer-generated notes inserted in cards addressed on Avery labels, thanks to mail merge programs. Easy. I can’t let myself go to the convenience, though. Like a mid-winter ritual, I want the smell of a fresh-cut Noble Fir and mulled apple cider mixing with the sound of peaceful Christmas music wrapping around me during my hours at the writing desk. I want to transform the ink from the pen in my hand into at least a feeble attempt at reaching out and connecting with those of my family and friends far removed, with whom I am still close at heart.

Perhaps, tasked with a holiday anachronism like that, starting from a date as late as this, I may see my Christmas greetings hit the Post Office by, oh, maybe New Year’s Day.

Above left: a Victorian era Christmas greeting card simply wishing "A merry Christmas and a happy new year." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I love Christmas cards: sending & receiving. I keep family cards. Family photo cards are the best.

    1. Ah, so I see I am not the only one! And just think: if we are fortunate enough to have children who will keep the stuff we've saved and pass it on, someday one hundred years from now, someone will be looking over these cards we've sent and received, commenting on these antiques!

  2. I wish I had saved Christmas cards. I have sympathy cards from the deaths of my maternal grandparents and my parents, but nothing as cheerful as Christmas cards. Merry Christmas! (Oh, and don't let the date worry you. I have a friend who sends New Years cards because she gave up trying to fit in all the festivities of Christmas. Sounds like a good idea to me!)

    1. A hearty Merry Christmas to you, too, Wendy! I like your friend's idea about New Year's cards, too...only if I decided to call it that, I'd procrastinate and end up sending them out on January 15!

  3. I was very late to do so - but i got most of the cards in the mail (I missed a few) and am short on some gifts that I should have mailed week(s) ago...

    1. Well, we're up to the last minute crunch time now, Iggy. But I suppose any heartfelt gift received a day or two late will still be received in the spirit in which it was given :)

  4. Wow a Rudy Valee Christmas Greeting! Yes that would have been awesome!
    I try to write in many of the letters we send out.
    I have done the same thing saved all those Christmas letters and photos from years past ..not sure what I will do with them:)

    1. If only I had known...

      Why not take that collection and use it as the basis for a scrapbook? I think people get a kick out of looking back at what they said and did, years before.

      Some day, I'll get around to transcribing mine ;)


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