Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Cards

January is here.

Now behind us is the annual barrage of obligatory Christmas gifts, visits to relatives, eggnog and other indulgences, and holiday decorations. Except for those who celebrate Epiphany and the twelve days of Christmas, the ho-ho-ho-ing is history for another year.

Part of the holiday season is the annual ritual of Christmas cards. It seems like we send them for a variety of reasons to a variety of people, but almost everybody has sent Christmas cards at one time or another.
The first commercial holiday greeting cards were produced in 1843 in England; the tradition came to America in 1875. They have varied from simple to fancy, religious to sacrilegious, sometimes with expensive foil or cut-outs or fold-outs - but what should be most important is the sentiment attached.

I don't know how many Christmas cards I sent out this year, but it seemed like a lot. Most, of course, go to family members scattered across the country, many of whom I haven't seen in far too long. I don't expect to be in their wills, nor will they be in mine, but it seems they should know we do still think of them from time to time.

Other cards go to friends and acquaintances, some close and others I'd like to know better. There's a feeling of guilt if you don't include your friends on your Christmas card list. "Hey, I didn't hear from you this Christmas," they may say next year. "Is everything all right? Have I offended you in some way last year?" For some folks it's an offense to be dropped from someone's Christmas card list.

A few went to groups of people with whom I have worked in past years. I'm sure they sat in an office somewhere, prettying the place up along with cards from board members and paper vendors. I know they seem impersonal, but it's an efficient way to say "hello" to a cadre of acquaintences all in one envelope.

I suppose I sent a card to some individuals, hoping to guilt them into renewing our friendship a little more. "Hello! Remember me?" Maybe it seems like it's their turn to call or write for a change. You'd think the least they could do is send an email every once in a while. That is undoubtedly the wrong reason to send a Christmas card to someone. On the other hand, I'm sure I've forgotten to send cards to some very good people over the years, just through carelessness. In the grand scheme of things, there's probably a perfect balance of friends who deserve a card and those who don't.

From what I understand, Christmas card sales are down this year. The Chicago Tribune reported the percentage of consumers purchasing Christmas greeting cards fell from 77 percent in 2005 to 62 percent in 2009. An estimated 1.8 billion Christmas cards were mailed last year, but the number was expected to drop to 1.5 billion this season, the report said.

One reason is the increased use of Facebook, texting and other electronic means of communication in our society. It's easy to email blanket holiday greetings to all your friends on Facebook, knowing that covers a good percentage of people you'd otherwise bless with a Hallmark card. Another reason is the ever-rising cost of postage, a moot point on the Internet.

Still, there's something nice about getting a tangible Christmas card from your friends. It's a warm fuzzy. You know, at least for a few seconds, they thought about you before moving on to someone else on their list. I guess Santa Claus has the same problem with his list every year.

My best friend and his wife in Washington always send a Christmas letter and a family photo, outlining what they and their four boys had done during the year. It's a way of vicariously staying close, even though we're 2,000 miles apart. Somewhere around the house I think I have kept all the letters they've sent in the 23 years they've been married. Maybe one of these days I'll aggregate them in one place. Yeah. One of these days....

My family never got into the idea of professionally printed Christmas cards. It just didn't seem right. My mother would spend weeks in November and December, addressing envelopes and writing personal notes to loved ones. We checked the incoming mail daily to see from whom we had received a card or letter. We'd chuckle at our "rich" relatives whose names were printed on their cards, as if they couldn't take the time to put pen to paper for a few seconds.

An aunt and uncle in Minneapolis always included a hand-written letter about how much snow they'd already received and what they'd been doing at church. She wrote the first 80% of the letter and he added a few lines at the end, usually summarizing what his wife had already written. Getting those cards and letters was all a part of Advent in our family.

While I was going through my late parents' belongings, I found neat bundles of Christmas cards my mother had saved, going back decades. Some of the names I didn't recognize - their friends from church or distant relatives from before our time, most now long gone. In the simple act of saving and treasuring them, it was clear those cards had sentimental value for my parents. It was a way of saying hello, we're thinking of you, we wish you well. And that, after all, is what wishing someone "Merry Christmas" is all about.

I don't think I'll throw them away.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Full Lunar Eclipse - 2010 Winter Solstice

As lovers bound eternal dance across the sky,
Elusive orb fades crimson, seemingly to die,
Then slips away once more as dawn draws ever nigh,
Mere mortals watch and wonder, while o'er the heavens they fly.