Friday, November 30, 2007
You've got mail
In most ways, the family I grew up in was a traditional post World War II family. Our dad worked as a bank teller, and our mom stayed home and took care of the house. We didn’t have a lot of possessions, but what we did have was appreciated, and we lived a life of true abundance in the areas that mattered.
There was one aspect to our life, however, that differed from other families we knew. Our dad was the one who chose, signed, and addressed the Christmas cards. In most families, this task usually fell to the woman of the household, but not in ours. This was not a chore to him; it was pure pleasure. It started with picking out the card he wanted. Now, this seems like it should be a relatively easy task. Most Christmas cards are functional, decorative, and suitable for the occasion. But Daddy had to have an extraordinary card. It had to be extra-special, because it had to have A MESSAGE. It just had to. No “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” for him - oh, no. His cards were more like little booklets, several pages long, with some sort of story reminding everyone of the true meaning of Christmas. He liked stories that gave the recipients pause in the busy holiday season, a story that they could read and meditate on. These cards, as you can image, usually had to be mail-ordered. You could not find these cards in Walgreen’s.
I always thought his choice was kind of strange. After all, what was wrong with regular Christmas cards? We got lots of regular type cards in the mail at our house, lovely cards with sparkles on them, or shiny foil, with pictures of heavily adorned Christmas trees and yummy candy canes and whimsical snowmen. Their messages were terse - “Happy Holidays From Our House to Yours,” for instance - and they were perfectly wonderful cards.
My sister and I were usually the first to get the mail if we were home, and we would always go through the Christmas cards with anticipation. It was the unspoken rule in our house that we could open cards addressed to our parents if it also had “and Family” or “and Girls,” or, sometimes, our actual names. If the envelope was just addressed to our parents, it waited until Daddy got home from work. As each card was opened and oohed and ahed over, we taped it up to a door to join the others. We had to hang all the cards at an angle so they would stay closed until we decided to open them again.
Fortunately, we hardly ever received a booklet card like the ones Daddy sent. They would have been very hard to tape to the door.
I never could understand why Daddy had to make a big fuss over sending a drab card without sparkles, without candy canes, and filled up with a lot of boring printing. Now that I am grown, however, I can appreciate his insistence. Sitting down with pen and cards and stamps, he himself found the time in his busy life to write to friends and relatives, sending his personal messages on his spiritually provocative booklet cards, and therein he knew lay the true Christmas spirit. He knew he was giving a great gift - an opportunity for the recipients to reflect on the birth of Jesus, not as a one-time historical event, but as a continual presence in their lives, offering its wisdom and tolerance and compassion.
I’m creating our Christmas letters and addressing envelopes and buying stamps this week. As I go through each name, I see them in my mind’s eye, wondering how they are doing, thinking of our shared memories, both joyful and sad, and as I enclose our current family Christmas picture, I feel I am sending some Christmas love their way. I don’t have a booklet card, and my envelopes are printed on the computer, but I’m sending out Christmas spirit and love in every envelope. After all, I learned from the master.