Whither Christmas Letters?

Posted on 29. Dec, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in NM, Social/Cultural

Christmas letters go back a long way to a time when people actually used something called a pen and dipped it in ink, made ornate letters on a piece of paper, put it in a special envelope and gave it to a man from the post office who actually came by the house to pick it up. Aaaah, nostalgia. The good old days. Times of yesteryear.

Good thing nostalgia is seen in the rear view mirror. Times were rough in the good old days. No electricity, no running water, no fancy central heating. Cold wooden toilet seats in a drafty outhouse that was separated from the main house by at least 20 steps that must be taken over ice or snow.

The one possible great old tyme exception was Christmas itself. There were practices then that made the holiday special and memorable, some I remember well like trudging out in the snow to cut your own tree and binding it to the top of the car or a toboggan for the trip home.

Making our own decorations and popping popcorn and stringing it for the tree. Taking out the old manger scene and placing it on the ledge above the water-filled radiator. Helping with the baking and the decoration of every kind of cookie imaginable. Smelling all the wonderful smells that filled every room of the house.

Taking our sleds to the post office to rescue those last presents that might be coming from afar and then hauling them back home wondering what treasures were inside. Then there were the church services (for me two – one Catholic the night before and one Lutheran on Christmas Day).

Churches resplendent with evergreen branches and huge white candles that cast soft shadows everywhere. Voices raised in songful praise of Jesus’ birth from the warmth inside while the fidgety among us gazed out the frost-encrusted windows to the snowy streets outside.

Christmas memories are like fingerprints. No two are alike. Every one is unique and personal. And while some may share a commonality that serves to bind us together, they are really best experienced by each one of us, on our own. So it is with Christmas letters.

We all view and report our world differently. That’s how it should be which is why I love Christmas letters! There, I said it, out loud and without apology! I feel the love of the parent when he/she talks about little Johnny’s first words or marvels at his first steps.

I grieve right along with the writer about the loss of a loved one or the death of a favorite pet. I whoop inside with joy when I hear about someone’s new job or hear about a wonderful vacation experience, and I nod in approval when a friend has an epiphany about life. I hang on every word. I suppose it’s the last remnant of the child in me, the child that still believes in the magic and significance of Christmas and the importance of good friends.

I’m not the reporter type, so my Christmas letters don’t usually include a list of what I’ve done. Instead, they include the, what I’ve learned from what I’ve done. That’s trickier to write about because the lessons often come much later. However…

I’ve learned that there is such a thing as too much political reporting and too much TV and too much sugar and too little exercise and too many low information voters and too many commercials and too many empty promises and too much hyperbole and too few really good friends with really good intentions and too much unjustified distrust and too little compassion for those among us who make mistakes.

I’ve also learned that growing older is okay, that it’s not something to be feared, avoided, despised, shunned… or stopped. I’ve learned, too, that the world around me is constantly changing and not necessarily for the better, that the gulf between us is growing while the promises to bridge it are broken.

I’m still mystified about our violent nature, our penchant for calling each other names and the way we disparage motives different from our own. I’ve learned that our economy is not a well-oiled machine and that when people are thrown out of work, they are not simply unemployed; they are essentially exiled from our society. I’ve learned that iphones, ipads and other similar diversionary devices have become the false idols that keep us from realizing God’s promise for us. There’s a line in Jonah’s prayer to God that pretty well sums it up.

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of Thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed, I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Believe that experience or not as your own personal religion dictates, but sometimes I get the feeling that the world is getting ready to do the same thing to us and wake us up from this daze of self-absorption. Then I remember why it is we are up to our ass in alligators. We have not only forgotten to drain the swamp, we have also forgotten how.

Which brings me back to the subject of Christmas letters. I believe that Christmas letters should be written more often than once a year and by more people and sent to yet even more people! Maybe by doing that we would realize that there is infinitely more that binds us together as one than separates us as many. Happy New Year.

- Editor



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