I love holiday cards. I love giving them, I love receiving them, I love holiday stamps, and I don’t even care if you write Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or a Festive Festivus, I’m happy to get a card in the mail from you. I hang them up in our dining room, commenting on how children have grown, or so-and-so has moved to another state. I love Christmas letters, even though I don’t write them very often. I know not everyone feels the same. But I love cheap drugstore cards and heavy, fine paper. I am the stationery industry’s dream. I love it all.
When it comes to sending cards, I genuinely enjoy the process of crafting a pretty design with photos of my adorable kiddos on it. I keep a copy of each card and string a ribbon through it, so it becomes a Christmas ornament for our tree for years to come, and then I can comment about how much our own children have grown. This is my sentimental, sweet highlight-reel version of us. I confess I sometimes need that little bit of snapshot perfection to hang so delicately on evergreen branches when I’m in the midst of winter anxiety.
My anxiety doesn’t so much focus on the holiday itself, but if you’d like a little peak into the mental hell that lives between my ears around late December, just google “peak norovirus season emetophobia seasonal affective disorder small children in the house.” Or maybe don’t. Suffice it to say, even with the Prince of Peace about to be born, we still have a lot of waiting to do, and we might as well make some cute cards while we endure it. [My favorite card was the one we sent when our oldest child was almost one year old. I put him in a Santa hat, which he tried to pull off while he cried and made a pathetic face. We captioned it: “Christ was born for this?!” End scene. Big hit.] So the photos, the addresses, the cards, and the stamps are all a nice distraction. I have a google spreadsheet and discounted stamps from Costco – it’s work that’s easy to accomplish while watching Elf.
The difficult part comes when sending a card to someone who might be really mad at me. This year, I’m sending cards to at least two people who have unfriended me on Facebook, a sister who hasn’t spoken to me in nearly two decades, and a friend with whom I had a very painful falling-out four years ago. I’m sending cards to people who are probably upset with me for reasons I don’t even know yet. To be clear, I could get very self-righteous and list the reasons that I should be mad at them, too, but trust me, it’s not worth your time, and not worth mine, either (not that I ever let that stop me from stewing).
These cards are small tokens of vulnerability, sure. I’m not calling up that angry sister on the phone, or knocking on the doors of the friends whom I’ve angered. But I’m sending a flat, 5×7 olive branch of love in their direction, and I have to believe that it’s a small step in the right direction. This is the beginning of the hard work of reconciliation, and even though I get to use a pretty envelope and watch Will Ferrell tower over Bob Newhart while I’m doing it, I kind of hate sending out these difficult season’s greetings. But I’m doing it. This act of teeth-gritting goodwill might stall out somewhere, or it might go in some big reservoir of yuletide affection that someone, somewhere is holding for us until we know what to do with it.
My other favorite tradition this time of year is reading Gail Godwin’s Evensong, which takes place in the season of Advent, and contains this kind of comfort and joy amidst the uncertainties of our imperfect life on earth:
“Surrounded by such uncertainties, whether they play themselves out in a year, or ten, or a thousand, what else can we do but appeal for mercy and protection to a love beyond clocks and calendars and mortal frailties, a love wise and faithful beyond all imagining. Yet somehow, over eons, we have become able to imagine it – in part. And sometimes even to practice it – in brief spurts.”
By sending holiday greetings to those whom I’ve wronged, or have been wronged by (likely both/and), I’m trying to practice that “love wise and faithful beyond all imagining … in brief spurts.”
I don’t expect reconciliation to come from my efforts alone. Reconciliation, and forgiveness, and mercy, and grace, all come from God, and so I’m waiting … waiting … waiting … for that baby in the manger. I can’t type an angry email while I’m affixing labels to cards, and I can’t speak ugly words while I’m licking envelopes, so maybe I can keep myself out of a little bit of trouble with this little project. If I can’t keep myself out of trouble (and let’s face it – I know I can’t), I wait for God, and with God, for Earth to receive her King. My own little heart can prepare Him room by cleaning house of some of the old cobwebs of resentment. And even when I can’t, I know I can count on the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace to do that for my sad, anxious, messy soul. Let heaven and nature sing…