Christmas 2005 Newsletter
Thank you all so much for
your support in 2005. I wish for you a very Merry
Christmas and a blessed New Year!
The Christmas Cards
Christmastime’s a’comin’! Christmastime’s a’comin’!
Christmastime’s a’comin’! And I know I’m a’goin’ home!
For some reason those words from the old Emmylou Harris song
by the same name always pop into my head this time of year.
I wonder why? It might be because I’m always waiting until
the last possible second and then scurrying around like mad
trying to take care of all the obligatory Christmas tasks.
The frantic phrasing in the song pretty much mirrors my
frantic December scrambling. You know, Christmas shopping,
Christmas cooking and baking, Christmas parties, Christmas
dinners, Christmas luncheons, Christmas volunteering,
Christmas cards . . . ouch, that last one on the list
strikes a nerve. Me and Christmas cards have a history, and
you might say I’ve developed a borderline phobia. I’ll get
into that later, but, first, let’s review the whole
Christmas card tradition.
The custom of sending Christmas cards started in England
during the Victorian era, between 1840-1900. Earlier
history has it that some adults had previously written
Christmas letters. I still see some folks carrying out this
tradition today. The problem, for me anyway, with Christmas
letters was that I never could think of a whole letter full
of interesting stuff to say about myself. At least not so
that anyone would want to read it. But, back in the day,
letters took time to write and created a daunting task for
people wanting to share Christmas greetings with many
others. At least today we can type one letter on the word
processor and print multiple copies!
In 1843, British businessman Sir Henry Cole, who was
probably tired of writing all those letters, asked artist
John Horsley to print some Christmas cards. One thousand
cards were printed in black and white and then colored by
hand. (My goodness, that sounds almost as bad as
handwriting letters!) And then, despite all that effort,
the cards, which depicted a happy family raising a toast,
were criticized for promoting drunkenness. Even back then,
same as today, you can never please everybody, especially at
Christmas! Nevertheless, Richard Pease, a
variety story owner, still brought the tradition to our
country, when in 1851 he commissioned the first cards
printed in the United States. In 1862 London printers
Charles Goodall & Sons began mass-producing Christmas cards
saying "A Merry Christmas." Later, they designed cards with
various designs, including robins, holly, mangers, snowmen,
and even Little Red Riding Hood.
When the Christmas card tradition took hold, I’m sure it
relieved a lot of pressure from the letter writers. If you
didn’t want to do it, or couldn’t, you didn’t have to
anymore. Today we don’t even have to think of what to say.
If necessary, we can simply let someone else’s words printed
in the card convey our good wishes to the recipients. Of
course, there are still those folks, who are one step below
the Christmas letter people, who still feel compelled to
write something inside each card. My dear sister is one of
those people. More power to her, I always think, when I
read one of her cards. For one thing it’s always obvious
that she’s carefully selected the best card to most
accurately communicate her feelings, because she underlines
several words and phrases in the card’s printed message.
Sometimes she even double-underlines! Usually even that
isn’t enough so, to be sure, she fills up almost every bit
of white space with her own personal message. She’s a
marvel. I sit there and stare at the card wondering, what
more is there to say? I agree with the sentiment in the
card, but if I underline it, I’ll just feel like I’m copying
her. So, I usually don’t add much. Of course, you have to
realize, I do have a phobia.
It all started when I was about twelve years old, roughly
the same age my nephew is now. Just as I can see in him,
that was an age at which I really became aware of many of
the more adult aspects of life and especially our Christmas
traditions. One of those traditions had always been
exchanging Christmas cards with friends and family. It
seemed like the “twelve days of Christmas” when the cards
started arriving daily in the mail. This must be a dreaded
time of year for the Post Office and mail carriers. But it
was Christmas every day for me, when I opened the mailbox to
find more cards. Momma would always tape them with scotch
tape to door facings in our livingroom, so anytime we
wanted, we could look at them again. We even saved cards
from the year before and taped them back up as part of our
Christmas decorations. I’ll be honest with you, I have no
idea why we did that or where that tradition originated. I
have noticed that my grandmother does pretty much the same
thing, so maybe it was handed down from previous
generations. Some of you may still do it, but it seems a
little silly to me now. Nevertheless, I guess it did serve
the purpose of reminding us there were people who cared
about us. At least, they cared enough to send a card.
I realize, although I fight diligently against it, at
forty-three years of age I’m a lot more cynical than I was
at twelve. When I think back to how I felt at twelve . . .
Christmas was the best time of the year. We had special
decorations in the house, special food, special
get-togethers, special songs, special programs at church,
special parades, special presents. Christmas was just . . .
special. So you can imagine, I’m sure, how excited I was to
start participating like a grownup. I was almost beside
myself one day when I walked into the kitchen and found a
brand new box of Christmas cards on the table.
My younger sister, two first-cousins, and I had always
stayed with our grandpa, while our parents and grandmother
worked. Then, when I was in the sixth grade, my grandpa
died very young—a victim of heart disease and emphysema.
That Christmas we didn’t have grandpa to stay with when we
were out of school for Christmas break. But I was
considered a mature twelve-year-old, and Daddy was home some
of the time since he worked swing-shift, so my sister and I
stayed home alone the rest of the time. It was on one of
those alone days that I discovered the new, unaddressed
I was ecstatic. Always looking for something to do to
occupy my time waiting for Momma and Daddy to get home from
work, I decided to get the cards ready to mail. I knew who
to send them to. It was the same people who sent us cards
every year. It was people from church, neighbors from down
the road, family members, folks who had become a part of my
life a well as my parent’s. I could handle this job.
Besides, if I wasn’t sure of exactly who should receive a
card from our family, all I had to do was look back through
the old stash of cards hanging from the door frame!
Did I mention that I have a Christmas card phobia? I’m
getting to that part.
I opened the Christmas card box, admired the cards my mom
had selected, and counted how many were in the box. Then I
made a list of everyone who should get one, making sure
there were enough. I addressed all the envelopes,
oftentimes having to look them up in the phone book to be
sure; but almost everyone lived on “Route 1,
Tennessee 37743.” After that I began to work on the inside
of the cards. I’d seen how everyone else signed the cards
they sent to us. If the message printed in the card didn’t
come right out and say it, they might write “Merry
Christmas” before they signed their names. Sometimes they
would just write the first names of everyone in the family,
adults and children too. Sometimes they wrote something
more formal, like “The Henry Family” or “The Sauceman’s.” I
looked them all over and thought about it for a moment and
decided that we were a pretty down-to-earth and
straightforward family. The card already said “Merry
Christmas,” so I simply added, “Love, Bill, Dinah, Rhonda
It may not sound like that much work, but it was an all day
job. I had to write slowly to be sure I used good
penmanship (I never received good grades for that in
school), and I didn’t want to mess up an envelope or card
and then have to run short and leave someone out. It was
painstaking work. So when I finally finished right before
time for Daddy to get home and admired the neat stack of
cards ready to go in the mail the next day, I was pretty
proud of myself. I figured Momma and Daddy would be pretty
proud of me too.
You see, now that’s what I get for thinking. My sister and
I are just alike, in that regard. We envision how things
are going to go and imagine how wonderful everything is
going to turn out, and then the actual outcome always,
always falls short of our vivid imagination. It’s a Jones’
My Daddy took one look at the cards and the look of disgust
and displeasure on his face was obvious.
“You wrote Love inside the cards?” he complained.
“Yes?” I replied, still not understanding what the problem
“Did you write that in all of them?” his disgust was
becoming a lot more noticeable.
“Yes.” I replied sheepishly, still not sure why that was
wrong, but certain now that it must have been.
“Well, you might as well throw them out,” he grunted. “We
can’t send out a bunch of cards that say Love.” He
snarled the word like it was the silliest thing he’d ever
“Why, Daddy?” My earlier giddiness was quickly turning into
“Grown people don’t sign a card like that! That’s
for people who are sending a card to a girlfriend or
boyfriend or husband or wife. You don’t just send
anybody a card and sign it with Love!” he
These weren’t just anybody, I thought. I’ve known these
people all my life. I see them at least once every week,
sometimes more. And we’ve been exchanging Christmas cards
every year for as long as I can remember. We even exchange
Christmas presents with some of them. They aren’t just
anybody. I was really confused, but I didn’t dare say any
of that out loud. I was too hurt and humiliated, watching
the cards I’d worked so hard on being thrown in the garbage
can. I just wanted to disappear, and I hoped I never had to
hear about this horrible thing I’d done ever again.
That was the year there were no Christmas cards sent out
from the Jones house. We had always sent out Christmas
cards, but not this year. And it was all my fault. Even
though no one outside our family knew it, I was still
embarrassed whenever I ran into them in the community. It
was a terrible burden for a twelve-year-old to carry. I had
ruined Christmas. None of those families received
confirmation that we wished them a Merry Christmas. I felt
really bad about that. And that’s not even the worst of it.
We never, ever sent Christmas cards out from our house ever
again. I not only killed the tradition for that one year.
I killed it forever in our family. At least, that's
what I believed. The first year—the year I messed
them up—we still received our usual number of cards. But
each year after that the number got smaller and smaller.
Finally it dwindled down to almost nothing, and it didn’t
take long before Momma stopped hanging the cards on the door
frames and threw out all the old cards. Just call me The Grinch. I stole Christmas.
Maybe now you can see why I have a Christmas card phobia.
I’ve tried to overcome it my entire adult life. First thing
I did, after I was working and had a home of my
own, I ran out and bought a box of Christmas cards.
Somehow, I was going to rectify my old wrongs. I sat there
and stared at the inside of that card for several minutes
trying to decide what to write. It seemed too puny to just
sign my name. If I wasn’t going to go to any more trouble
than that, why bother sending the card at all? But what
could I write? You can bet your Christmas booties I wasn’t
going to write “Love, Rhonda”! I finally settled on “Happy
Holidays”, which seemed safe enough and sounded like it
encompassed both Christmas and New Year’s. I tried to think
of everyone, and before long they were reciprocating with
their own Christmas cards to me. Sometimes . . . you’re not
going to believe this . . . someone would write “Love”
inside their card to me! And on those rare occasions, I
would automatically think how odd that was for them to do
that. I was well-programmed.
That’s what we do, you know. We program ourselves, our
children, everyone within our circle of influence. We’re
programmed to believe certain things and not question them.
Now, after all these years, I’ve started questioning . . .
not the least of which being my Christmas card programming.
What’s wrong with saying “Love” or “I Love you”
to someone who’s a part of your life in one way or another?
What’s wrong with saying it to anyone, for that matter? I’m
sure there are those out there (who probably received the
same programming I did) who think it’s foolish or maybe even
weird. It almost seems to be a common phenomenon in our
culture to avoid the whole concept of love. We say someone
“wears their heart on their sleeve,” and we don’t mean it as
a compliment. We use that phrase to imply these people are
too sensitive, too emotional. Heaven forbid that they would
actually be a crier to boot! We consider it a weakness, and
more often than not, what you hear is, “they need to stop
wearing their heart on their sleeve!” We seem to spend an
awful lot of time in our society trying to beat that
natural, God-given emotion out of people. (Does that mean
we think God made a mistake, when he endowed us with
the ability to love?)
I thought about this when I saw the movie, Pay It Forward.
Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment were
fabulous in the screen adaptation of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s
book released in 2000 under the same name. In this movie,
an enigmatic seventh-grade teacher, played by Kevin Spacey,
challenges his students to put into action an idea that
could change the world. Young Trevor McKinney, played by
Osment, comes up with a plan to do good deeds for three
people. Then by way of payment, each must do good turns for
three other people. These nine people also must pay it
forward and so on, ad infinitum. If successful, the
resulting network of do-gooders ought to comprise the entire
world. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I cried almost
all the way through the movie. But apparently I wasn’t the
only one moved by it. As a result of the overwhelming
impact of the book and movie, there is actually now a Pay It
Forward Foundation with a real live network of members, a
newsletter and all.
You want to know something I’ve figured out? All it is is
love. Plain and simple. Why do something good for
someone? Because I love them. That’s why. And the ripple
effect from me loving and helping you, just like in the
movie, is multiplied exponentially when you in turn pass it
on to others. Just think how different this whole world
might be, if we would only start loving instead of hating .
. . and fighting.
Therein lies a very important point. When I say we need to
“start loving,” you see that love is not a noun. It’s a
verb. It’s not a thing. It’s an action. Just
as in Pay It Forward, it has power when we do it.
In order to love, we have to do something. Speaking,
touching, acting (body language) . . . that’s how we love.
One of my favorite writings on the subject of love comes
from I Corinthians 13:1-8 in the Bible. Here is that text
from the New International Version:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have
not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move
mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I
possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but
have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not
envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude,
it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps
no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but
rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
A few years ago someone sent me this “Christmas version” of
that scripture, modified by an unknown author. I really
like it too:
First Corinthians 13 Christmas Version
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of
twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my
family, I'm just another decorator.
If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas
cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully
adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my
family, I'm just another cook.
If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home,
and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to
my family, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted
snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in
the choir's cantata, but do not focus on Christ, I have
missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated
Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is
thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in
return, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all
things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf
clubs will rust.
But giving the gift of love will endure.
Both versions of this description of love are compelling.
What’s even more interesting to me is that the King James
Version of the Bible doesn’t use the word “love” in that
passage of First Corinthians. Instead, it uses the word
“charity.” When I think of charity, I definitely don’t
think of something that I simply feel. I think of doing
something . . . showing charity . . . acting upon the
charity—the love—I have in my heart for others. So, for me,
I’ve come to this conclusion. Love is not what I feel.
When someone shows me love, I may feel happy or safe or
special. Love, on the other hand, love is what I
do. It’s good to write it in a card to someone. But I
think it’s much better, and probably more believable, when I
Could that have been the lesson about the Christmas cards?
Do you think, when my dad chastised me for writing Love
in all those cards, he was actually trying to teach me that
it’s better to show it than it is to write it in a card?
Well, I can only hope that was his intent. It just took me
a few decades to finally understand.
I think back over the names I wrote on those Christmas card
envelopes, thirty-one years ago, and I can still see each
and every face. And I realize something when I think about
those good friends and family. I really did love them. I
wrote it in the card, because I really did mean it. I still
do. Some of them are gone now, and I’ll never again have
the opportunity to send them a Christmas card with “Love,
Rhonda” written in it. So I sure hope they knew it. I
hope I did show them in some other way than those Christmas
cards that were never mailed. I truly hope I made it clear
to them how much I loved them, and how happy I was to have
them in my life.
Today, I am so blessed. I have so many wonderful people in
my life, with new acquaintances joining the circle everyday,
who routinely show me love. I’ve hardly ever received a
Christmas card from any of them. But I still know they love
me. They’ve shown me in so many other ways. I hope they
all know I love them too.
I probably won’t send out Christmas cards this year. I
could never send enough to cover everyone, and I couldn’t
bear to leave anyone out. So I hope I’ve shown it. I hope
I’ve displayed it in many of my words and deeds. And, if
somehow along the way I’ve failed to do that, then I
graciously and humbly display it here now. To everyone
reading this with whom I’ve worked, played, served, and
prayed—you know who you are—and to all the countless,
nameless faces who’ve passed my way this past year, and to
all of you who have joined the circle of folks reading my
newsletters . . . I love you. I really do.
I sign this Christmas card happily,
The Truth About Santa
I remember my first Christmas party with Grandma. I was just
a kid. I
remember tearing across town
on my bike to visit her on the
day my big sister dropped
the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she
jeered. "Even dummies know
My grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to
day because I knew she would
be straight with me. I knew
Grandma always told the
truth, and I knew that the truth always went
down a whole lot easier when
swallowed with one of her
world-famous cinnamon buns.
Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between
bites, I told
her everything. She was
ready for me.
"No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe
it. That rumor
has been going around for
years, and it makes me mad,
plain mad. Now, put on your
coat, and let's go."
"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my
"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one
store in town
that had a little bit of
just about everything. As we walked
through its doors, Grandma
handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in
"Take this money and buy something for someone who needs it.
for you in the car." Then
she turned and walked out of
I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my
never had I shopped for
anything all by myself. The store
seemed big and crowded, full
of people scrambling to finish their
For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching
ten-dollar bill, wondering
what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I
thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my
kids at school, and the
people who went to my church. I was just
about thought out, when I
suddenly thought of Bobbie Decker. He was a
kid with bad breath and
messy hair, and he sat right behind
me in Mrs. Pollock's
Bobbie Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he
never went out
for recess during the
winter. His mother always wrote a
note, telling the teacher
that he had a cough, but we kids knew that
Bobbie Decker didn't have a
cough, and he didn't have a coat.
fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I
Bobbie Decker a coat. I
settled on a red corduroy one that had a
hood to it. It looked real
warm, and he would like that.
"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind
asked kindly, as I laid my
ten dollars down.
"Yes," I replied shyly. "It's ... for Bobbie." The nice lady
me. I didn't get any change,
but she put the coat in a bag and
wished me a Merry Christmas.
That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas
ribbons, and write, "To
Bobbie, From Santa Claus" on it --
Grandma said that Santa
always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me
over to Bobbie Decker's
house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever
officially one of Santa's
Grandma parked down the street from Bobbie's house, and she
and I crept
noiselessly and hid in the
bushes by his front walk. Then
Grandma gave me a nudge.
"All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get
I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the
on his step, pounded his
doorbell and flew back to the safety
of the bushes with Grandma.
Together we waited breathlessly in the
darkness for the front door
to open. Finally it did, and there
Forty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent
beside my grandma, in Bobbie
Decker's bushes. That night,
I realized that those awful
rumors about Santa Claus were just what
Grandma said they were:
Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.
We celebrate the spirit of giving at Christmas,
in commemoration of the gift of His son, Jesus,
given to us by God many years ago.
Jesus is the reason for the season!