Not against commercializing Christmas, but let’s not let it show in our relationships

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Every year, from the earliest inklings of my childhood memory, my mom has sent out Christmas cards.

The first week of each December, I would watch her picking out stationary – she likes the ones with glittery snow and red cardinals – and penning a hand-written Christmas greeting onto each one before flipping through her address book for names and contacts. Then, with a stamp and a tender hand, she would drop them in the mailbox.

Every year, from the earliest inklings of my childhood memory, my mom has sent out Christmas cards.

The first week of each December, I would watch her picking out stationary – she likes the ones with glittery snow and red cardinals – and penning a hand-written Christmas greeting onto each one before flipping through her address book for names and contacts. Then, with a stamp and a tender hand, she would drop them in the mailbox.

Now, if my mom were to describe to you her Christmas card process, I am sure the details would include the stress of finding time to purchase, pen, address and mail dozens of cards all in time to arrive at their destination. For a mother of seven, this was a special kind of feat.

But she found the time, and that is what I remember.

When I lived in Prague for two years, I began sending out Christmas cards of my own. It was a last-ditch effort to stay in touch with people from high school and college who had all moved on with their lives while I had moved halfway around the world.

To my surprise, many people wrote back.

What started out as a nicety, a polite way to say “hello, remember me? I’m not dead yet, are you?” turned into an ongoing correspondence (even if only one that happens during Christmas time). Some of them even blossomed into friendships outside of the holiday card-sending.

It has been harder to find nice cards in the States. In Prague, the Christmas cards were gorgeous. They were festive and colorful and finely painted.

Getting my hands on a worthwhile set of Christmas stationary in East County is difficult (props to the Target at Grossmont Mall for coming through this year) – maybe people just are not sending them anymore?

It is true, the trend has turned away from cards and towards family photos and typed-out newsletters. And while there is nothing wrong with that, I find that sending out a “here we are” Christmas photo has a different feel than a “there you are” Christmas card.

One invites the reader to see what is new with the sender, the other lets the reader know they are loved and missed by the sender.

Often, in the age of the commercialized Christmas, it feels like love for our fellow man has been removed from the holiday entirely (unless it can be used to sell a product). Stores are looking to make their last big buck before the end of the year. Coca-Cola is having a field day. And everyone is cashing in on the opportunity to make tear-jerking holiday commercials (including a justifiably devastating one by the International Committee of the Red Cross and a less justifiably devastating one by some European cohort that thinks ripping arms off teddy bears is okay to show on television – I feel I am justifiably traumatized by both).

And while I will be the last to complain about lights in every window and holly on every door, I do have a problem with Christmas becoming an experience factory. It is like a Frankenstein’s monster of emotions that we have to face before we can pass Go and head into the new year. Some of those emotions are legitimate and come with the holiday, and others are synthetic, fabricated for our convenient use.

I cry twice as much in December as I do any other time of the year – and I am Italian, so I cry a lot as it is.

Are holiday experiences bad? By no means!

I love watching East County roll out its holiday parades and parties, many of which double as fundraisers for important causes in our communities. I love that our neighborhoods are taking this opportunity to support our servicemen and women and our veterans, our homeless and our families struggling with loss and terrible sickness during this time.

I love what Christmas does to a small community.

I do not like what Christmas does to us as individuals or to us as society at large. As we scrummage around desperately trying to find the perfect holiday everything – the perfect gifts, the perfect family dinners, the perfect night out to see Christmas lights, the perfect cookie decorating parties, the perfect homemade pies, the perfect time to watch the perfect movies – we tend to end up focusing on ourselves and what we are able to accomplish and how we feel about things at the end of the day. (In an ironic turn of events, that was actually the message of the teddy-demolition commercial).

Oh, that we could all be children again at this time of year – I do not remember a single Christmas as a child where not everything seemed perfect.

I think that is because I felt loved. At the end of every day in December, and indeed, every day of my entire childhood, I had the immense blessing of being loved very, very well. And I did not need synthetic, emotionally charged holiday paraphernalia to help me feel so.

I wish communities acted like it was Christmas all the time, giving their time and resources to people in need because we are neighbors and not just because there is a holiday on the calendar.

And I wish more people wrote out actual Christmas cards, not just because they want to “stay in touch” or share an updateabout their life, but because they want to express affection and friendship in a special way. In fact, I wish more of us found excuses to do that all year long. What a wonderland that world would be to live in.

My mom made me someone who is conscious of showing love and appreciation to the people in my life by doing it herself. And I have no doubt that her holiday correspondences are more than just polite niceties – they are her way of reaching across a very large divide in our lives with a gentle hand and saying, “You are loved and remembered this Christmas, and always.”

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