This being the 68th Advent in my life, I found myself awash in memories as I prepared a few score Christmas cards for mailing. Several matters stuck with me.
Foremost is the deeper realization of how things change over the course of a life. Some of the addressees on my list have passed on since last year (as happens more, it seems, every year). Acting on the loss of them is bittersweet. Crossing a name from the list brings a tinge of sadness revisited, along with an appreciation for their meaningfulness in my life. I am always the better for having known them all.
Others from years past have simply moved on. The annual contact had been dropped by either sender or recipient for whatever reasons: a frequent change of address not kept current, a loss of mutual interests due to retirement or employment changes, a divorce — or other type of estrangement — the passage of time having lessened the original intensities involved, but no opportunities for reconnection yet taken.
One aspect to updating the list that partially offsets the losses: there are names to add as life progresses. (There is also the embarrassment in finding that, in transcribing the list from one year to the next, someone got omitted in error along the way. I caught another one this year!)
Another factor in the decline of our annual practice is cultural and generational change.
As a kid I was fascinated with Christmas cards — there was a unique delight in seeing them stuffed inside the mailbox; the festiveness with the display of them on the mantle a pleasing sight. They reminded of the thoughtfulness by so many.
I’m not certain when I started sending them out myself; I’m guessing around age 12. Kids in those pre-ZIP code days were quite familiar with addressing and mailing: we were adept at collecting cereal box tops to send in for prizes or in purchasing money orders for goofy “X-Ray Glasses!,” as advertised in comic books, and for ordering the not-so goofy solid fuel model rocket kits offered by mail through Estes Industries.
I enjoyed the adult sense of offering season’s greetings to aunts and uncles and to my adolescent friends. From that point I was hooked: a once a year activity of sharing a quick note of joy as an expression of love — what should be done all year but normally isn’t — being done freely and with joy. It’s never been a chore.
But this once widespread cultural practice is clearly dying. The medium is one reason. Fewer handwritten letters, not to mention greeting cards (birthday, Christmas, Easter, and the like), are mailed each year through the postal service.
Electronic conveniences have long taken hold. It’s quicker and cheaper to compose and send “personal’ greetings on a device; mass-produced missives (automatically spell-checked) with just a click. (Admittedly, this text is being sent in by email; much, I’m sure, to the editor’s delight. The format is easier to edit and transcribe for publication. Besides, my penmanship is nearly indecipherable.)
But even this alternative to mailing personalized Christmas cards has gone through various iterations in a relatively short time. Remember E-Cards? Those died out almost as quickly as they appeared. Facebook became a default venue — but there is a lack of intimacy with Facebook and other venues not found with a handwritten letter or a mailed greeting card. Now several alternatives to Facebook exist.
It’s also a generational thing, to be sure. I’m hard-pressed to think of many examples of millennials particularly interested in carrying the tradition forward on a personal level.
Though we’re on the cusp of losing a nice practice, it’s not at the expense of forgoing the magnitude of what Christmas is. We’re simply losing a manner by which to share our appreciation for it and for each other.
So for the time being, and with happy deliberation, (while keen on using only Christmas postage stamps to send them), I’ll continue to mail out season’s greetings for the pleasantries it (hopefully) brings the recipient, and for what that means to me.
And what it means to me is this: those recipients are subtly reminded that they are worth more of my time than what a mere click of the keyboard takes to do. So, too, is Christmas.
Merry Christmas and yearlong joy to all!
Dan Flathers is a Toms Brook resident.
Correction: The last sentence of this commentary contained two typos that have been corrected.