The Christmas card

The Christmas season can affect different folks in different ways. The family of a mail carrier certainly knows what to expect as Dec. 25 approaches. My father delivered mail in Baltimore for 30 years, faithfully walking his route in all kinds of weather. This was before carriers began covering their routes in trucks. The sending of Christmas cards creates a hardship on all those who handle our mail on its way to us. The weeks before Dec. 25 bring a blizzard of holiday mail that bulges the carrier’s mailbag, forces overtime hours and the hiring of substitute carriers, sorters and clerks.

But we love sending and receiving these annual messages of family news and good wishes. Yesterday, my bride sat at our dining table, surrounded by boxes of greeting cards and a printed address list, to begin the annual ritual for us.

Historians tell us that the custom of sending Christmas cards originated in the United Kingdom in 1843 when Sir Henry Cole, who worked in the Public Record Office (later called Post Office) sought ways for more people to use the mail service. He and his artist friend John Horsley designed a Christmas-themed greeting card. Until this time, only the financially well off could afford to use the postal service.

All that’s changed now. Holiday greeting cards are a big business. They feature generic Season’s Greetings or Happy Holiday messages, pictures of Santa, cartoons, snowy scenes, pictures of Christmas scenes of a century past. Cards specifically celebrating the birth of Christ exist, but they seem to be in the minority on store shelves.

Many of us tuck a mass-produced Christmas letter in with cards we send, catching up our friends on all of our family’s activities during the year. Some of these can be too long or filled with too much detail. We do send one but limit it to a few highlights, and we keep it to one page. We also enclose a page of family photos we send to close friends and family.

You would think the son of a mail carrier would shun the Christmas card-sending habit, but the truth is, we love reaching out to friends this way, and for some this mailed Christmas greeting is our only contact during the year. And we love receiving them, reading the newsy notes and enjoying the photos of their children and grandchildren. Sir Henry Cole really started something good.

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