The long-standing tradition of sending out Christmas cards during the holiday season can be credited to Henry Cole of Victorian England.
It was often customary in those days to send out letters to family and friends around Christmas and New Year’s, and the newly created British postal system meant people were sending their holiday tidings in mass.
Henry Cole, traveling in very elite social circles, found himself with an over abundance of letters he simply couldn’t respond to with handwritten replies, as was expected.
Ace Collins, author of Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, writes, “In Victorian England, it was considered impolite not to answer mail. He had to figure out a way to respond to all of these people.”
His solution became the Christmas card, first sent back in 1843.
To this day, it’s a perennial practice – one generic holiday greeting, individually addressed to everyone in your social circle. It’s not the most personalized communication, but it’s proven satisfactory for the last 176 years.
Last weekend, my wife and I sat down in front of the Christmas tree to sign, seal and deliver our Christmas cards for the holiday season.
For years we’ve followed the same pre-typed list of contacts consisting of family, friends and co-workers from our almost 19 years together. It’s a cumulative list, therefore we can see the additions and deletions we’ve made over almost two decades.
This year, what should have been a task filled with holiday cheer was rather melancholy. We couldn’t believe how many people had passed on – some this year alone.
Winston Churchill once remarked that, “Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.”
While loss is a reality we all have to deal with at some point in our lives, being reminded of it while filling out Christmas cards seemed like an inopportune time for such a reflection.
It also served as a further reminder that as we get older, Christmastime is less about the “presents” under the tree and more about the “presence” all around it.
Though our Christmas card list has drastically reduced since our marriage almost 19 years ago, those we have lost have not been forgotten.
So, this Christmas, I’d like to send them all a Christmas card which requires no envelope or postage. It’s a Christmas card from my heart.
I want them all to know how grateful I am for the time we shared together. For their undying affection, continual attention, laughter and a spirit I still can feel swirling all around me, especially during this time of the year.
Their memory is an everlasting gift which provides warmth on days when I’m cold and lonely and need a reminder of all the wonderful people I’ve been so blessed to encounter along the way. Their “presence” certainly will be under my tree come Christmas morning.