December 21, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Christmas, the time for graceful reconnection

Cynthia DewesOne of the ways that we know Christmas is at hand is the volume of Christmas cards and letters that jam our mailboxes by now.

This may be our annual connection with some people we don’t want to forget or just acknowledgement of a business acquaintance. At my age, it’s a signal to those far away that we are still alive.

This brings to mind the dreaded generic “Christmas Letter,” which I think began as a cultural phenomenon sometime in the 1960s. Until they came under public scrutiny and were reformed at some point, these missives mostly updated their recipients on the sender’s thrilling past year.

And it was always a thrilling past year, usually including things like the husband’s election as commodore of the yacht club or the daughter’s cheerleading trophy or moving into a new McMansion. Just once, it might have been refreshing to hear that Junior was in jail for dealing drugs or Mom had gained 40 pounds, but no such luck.

Fortunately, Christmas letters have calmed down by now to being fairly accurate reports of a family’s doings: nothing too spectacular, nothing too depressing, just the ordinary stuff of people’s lives. But we are grateful to have these reports, and the accompanying cards that include less information but offer nice sentiments.

Some of my dearest friends don’t even send their own cards. One pal in Minnesota has Parkinson’s disease so her husband signs their greetings. But she is still sharp, as I learned one year when I got my cards out late and she was on the phone immediately, asking if I was OK.

Another kindergarten colleague has beginning dementia so someone else writes her cards. But she, too, is still paying attention; she is the one who calls me when one of our classmates is ill or passes on. Apparently, the memory of friendship never fades.

Then, there are the folks we haven’t seen in more than 40 years, but who keep in touch solely by Christmas letter. We met one such couple early in our marriage when “we” were all in the Army for two years.

We attended their wedding in St. Louis, and later visited them once in Maryland when we were on a family vacation. But we have kept up ever since on the doings of their numerous children, grandchildren, trips, illnesses, job changes, accidents, you-name-it. We probably know more about them than we do some of the people we see often.

Christmas cards are also a lovely way to assuage loneliness. We exchange notes and greetings with several former neighbors or co-workers who now live alone.

While some of them have networks of friends and relatives to support and cheer them, others do not and they depend on the arrival of Christmas cards. One elderly bachelor we know lives in a Florida condo with only a distant great-nephew to visit him now and then. His widowed sister and most of his friends have died, and he loves to “talk” about old times at work with my husband.

Christmas is also the best of times to let our non-religious or non-Christian friends and relatives know how much we love them. Without proselytizing, we can share the generous spirit of this great religious holiday by offering our sincere greetings and letting them know of our hopes for joy and peace in their lives.

With Christ’s birth comes God’s overwhelming love for us. Christmas cards provide one more way to share that grace with others.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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