You’ve Got Mail

Another Christmas card arrived in the mail today, a welcome alternative to the flyers and bills and requests for money which clutter the box in December. The number of cards sent and received is shrinking but it is a tradition which marks the holiday season in the same manner as purchasing a real tree.

Christmas cards were more common growing up, with the bulk arriving at our home from the Netherlands. My mother was challenged to find new and inventive ways to display them. There were not enough shelves or window sills in the house so an alternative became necessary. I remember one year when a string stretched across the diagonal of the front room, hung from one corner to the other, filled with cards accumulated in the weeks preceding December 25.

The cards represented family, a neighbour, a friend, or a connection, not to be forgotten; and if you received one from an unexpected person, then you would rush out for another stamp to send a return card hoping it would arrive by Christmas. Similarly, if repeated mailings were not reciprocated, the address was scrapped from the list for next time. I don’t recall my mother retaining any after the New Year so I suspect they were discarded to clear room for another batch to commemorate the next occasion.

Olga and I save a number of cards we have received through the years, stored with our tree decorations. Each Christmas we uncover the bundle and reminisce, sifting through them, thinking back to the people or the time and the reason this particular one is treasured. Some of them are placed among the new because of their beauty. A couple cards from Tante (Aunt) Toos get displayed every Christmas.

The cards themselves are small, 4 X 6 inches, plain, blank inside where she would sign her name and include the Dutch version of cheer for the season. They are a keepsake because the decorative centre piece is cross stitched by her, special for Christmas. The scanned photos do not fully display the intricate needlework of these wonderful handmade crafts. I am unaware who else would have been sent these delicate cards and hope the people cherished them in a similar manner. It is difficult to imagine simply tossing them into the garbage at the end of the holidays.

Sometimes a card is kept for the message and for the sender. We received a greeting every year from my parents, always on time, completed in my mother’s handwriting, signing for the both of them.

On this particular message, the year was not necessary as the question mark clearly situates this card in the days leading up to Christmas in 1987. It would be the first year we had not travelled to London to celebrate with them. The baby was due around the 25th and Olga was much too pregnant to travel. We spent Christmas Eve listening to the radio in our near empty living room in anticipation of labour pains. Those began two days later as our world was blessed again with Olena on December 27 to complete the blank spot in all subsequent cards.

Dad continued to send them even when he became incapable of writing. He would turn to others to purchase, sign and mail to our home address. We have hung on to a couple of these as well, as a marker of the change.

One of the joys of parenthood is to open a card from your grown children after they have moved away, at first on their own and later with a partner. It is heartwarming how they have taken care in the selection and hand written inscription.

We are looking forward to spending Christmas Eve and the holiday season with you! We’re the cute little kittens at the door with the red bows on our necks saying “Let me in! We want to be with you this Christmas!” Love you guys a lot, Nicholas & Chiu

To Mom & Dad – famous world travelers. May your home be filled with the sights, smells, wonder and magic of Christmas! With lots of love, Two silly monkeys, Olena & Daniel.

We have retained several cards from Nicholas/Chiu and Olena/Daniel, all with messages of love and a touch of humour.

The unspoken can be as endearing, meriting the card as a keeper, like the one where Christian signs his own name beside his parents for the very first time. Another from Olga’s Mom whose written English was never developed and so began relying on one of the grand children to select and include the correct salutations while she wrote a message in Ukrainian in her rudimentary penmanship. Then there are those from relatives in the Netherlands whose English is poor or none existent yet manage to transcribe “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” special for us.

We look forward to the families of friends and relatives who produce cards with photographs. Olga and I have retained each one, placing them in order of years and marveling how the children have grown as everyone matures. Finally there are the ones too beautiful to discard, pictures or works of art or magical scenes, finding their way back onto the mantle in subsequent years.

The tactile experience of cards, gazing at the images, feeling the embossed figures, smiling at the messages, cannot be replaced. They represent the joy of giving and receiving in the simplest exchange of love and friendship.

The number of cards have dwindled with the passing of many older relatives and the prevalence of other forms of communication. New addresses have not kept up with the ones no longer applicable. We await the mail every day anticipating the next one or two to add to our collection as it grows incrementally.

Remembering our family and friends close to home and far away….

Remembering people with whom we have lost touch…

Remembering people who we have lost….

Remembering people.

2 thoughts on “You’ve Got Mail

  1. What a beautifully nostalgic post! I ell remember the bundles of Christmas cards that would arrive in the mail in the weeks leading up to the Christmases of my youth. Even until several years ago, I would wait in anticipation to receive cards from friends and family abroad – and locally – eager to read the news written in a letter placed inside. Even if this was an annual catch up it was a welcome connection. Then the cards began to dwindle – no longer enough to form an integral part of our decorations. Hastily sent e-mails began taking their place – even those have dwindled now and tend to be less personal. Given that our postal service is dysfunctional, people have so firmly abandoned the practice of sending cards in the mail that one cannot even buy them anymore! On this point I feel sorry for the many charities that used to make a tidy sum from the sale of these seasonal cards. I love all the ‘remembering’ with which you have closed this piece. I wish you a very happy festive season.


    1. Thank you Anne. The practice of reaching out at Christmas has changed where even the easy emails are forgotten. A like or a canned Facebook message cannot match the beauty of a card or the appreciation of thoughtful notes. There are clear advantages to the electronic form, like the blogs we have and the ability to reach people around the world. I still like to engage in the physical elements of mail. It seems like such an adventure. I have yet to send a Christmas Card to the continent of Africa – if you are interested, we could exchange addresses through email. In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas!


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