(December 13, 2017) Hear the audio version

The tradition of Christmas cards has taken a big hit from the digital age, but Debbie Duncan keeps it up because the rewards are many and unexpected.

The mailman delivered twice a day in December to my Southern California suburban home in the 1950’s. Morning and afternoon I helped my mother open hand-addressed Christmas greetings, and add the cards and photographs to our collection strung over the fireplace—everyone from my cousins in Sedro Woolley, Washington to Red the Butcher down the street.

Personalized holiday greetings and I go way back, in other words. And I’ve kept it up, though years ago I stopped assuming all of my recipients celebrate Christmas. I know they do not. We try to include a family photo. My clever, funny husband writes a letter. I address the envelopes. I realize labels are more efficient (I tried that one year), but I like to show that a human hand was part of the process. I don’t need two snail-mail deliveries a day, but I don’t mind buying Forever stamps forever in order to continue to receive those cards and letters.

Going through my torn, tattered, 20-year-old address book is an annual reminder of family and friends who have died. There’s no “delete” in my book; just crossed-out names. I have more notes scribbled in the margins than Senators put in the tax bill—notes such as referring to one family as our “misplaced Kansas relatives.” They have their same last name as my husband’s sister. For some reason one year our card was delivered to their Kansas home rather than hers. So they sent one back to us. Instant long-distance friendship! I’ve watched their boys grow up, as they have our girls. I smile every time I write to them.

This year I’ll be adding several families I also have not met. They live closer, in the North Bay. Most lost their homes in the October fires. I know of them because they had the grace to send me thank-you notes for the small gift cards I sent up to Santa Rosa when I wanted to do something—anything—to help fire survivors. They told me they belong to a Bible study group. I will wish them Merry Christmas, and remember them every year when I write their names.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.