December 14, 2006

Where did the year go? It seems like only a few months ago that I was hunched over the same table, the same accoutrements – address book, cards, stamps, pen, glass of Johnny Walker Red – ever-so-carefully laid out before me, Christmas music on the CD player, the room lights down and accented by the Christmas lights in the nearby windows and the fake tree nearby. Nevertheless, the calendar says it’s near mid-December, which means getting my Christmas cards out.

I have the same address book I’ve used for the twenty years Tracey and I have been married, and, while it’s running out of space, I have to admit, it’s held up pretty good. That address book has resided in Dracut, MA, then Louisville, KY, then back to Milford, MA, and now here in Gilbert, AZ – traveling thousands of miles to accommodate and fulfill it’s same annual raison D’être. Opening my address book each year, it’s at once amazing, humbling, wistful, and not a little awe-inspiring to see the progression of the years and seasons in the scratched-out entries of friends, family, and acquaintances who we have shared holiday greetings in the past – those who have moved (sometimes several times!), married, divorced, passed away, or simply dropped out of the social circles that can’t help but ebb and flow as the years pass both eventfully and quietly by.

Whenever I start my Christmas cards, I’m always reminded of when I was young, when you knew Christmas was just around the corner the day my mom would have my dad set up the folding card table in our livingroom with her Christmas cards and address box. Seeing that table come out was truly a momentous event, for it meant that putting up the Christmas tree was only days away, and – better yet – Christmas school vacation was just around the corner!

Every year, I look at the names in my address book and think, “this is the year I’m cutting down on the number of cards I send!” But I never do. In some cases, I don’t have to – the years and the times do it for me, all by themselves. Sometimes it’s sad, because I know the distance created between me and some of the entries in my address book are my own fault. Sometimes it’s awkward – like when, at Tracey’s behest, I’m the one who ends up writing out the cards to her dysfunctional family members. It’s hard for me to send a card without the salutation of “love”, but that’s a word her family seldom, if ever, used. So I don’t. Most of the time, though, it’s both satisfying and a joy, especially when you know the people you are writing to will receive your card with the same amount of pleasure you will theirs.

But as I write out my cards with different variations on the same theme – hoping the season finds people in good health and cheer, and expressing wishes for health and happiness in the New Year – I can’t help be struck by the deeper aspects inherent in the ritual. After all, you’re not simply just connecting with friends, family, and loved ones you’ve come to know and send cards to over the years, you’re willingly immersing yourself into a passge of time that, had their been no such ritual, you might never have otherwise noticed.

My mom told me earlier tonight that you send Christmas cards to people you haven’t communicated with since the last go-round because that’s what the holidays are all about, and I think she’s right. If the passage of time is the great equalizer we all share as human beings, it’s simple, annual rituals like sending Christmas cards out whenever the calendar points to mid-December that makes us understand that no one is immune to it.

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