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December 25, 2021

During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have considered what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. During this holy season, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to your place of worship or to your favorite charity. Thank you.

Is there anything as over as Christmas? Fresh green trees that have graced our homes for weeks begin to drop needles until they are discarded along city streets, waiting like fallen soldiers to be collected by the body wagon. Colorful wrapping paper and bright ribbons are reduced to trash as quickly as gifts are torn open. Even artificial trees are stored in plastic containers the size of coffins. Decorations are packed away in the basement, the attic, or the garage until next year.

Christmas is over!

So, what do we do with the Christmas cards and letters we have received? At our house, the cards with family pictures go on the refrigerator. Christmas letters are put aside to read at a more leisurely pace. Some of the correspondence is personal and will find a place to be savored for years to come. The cards from charitable organizations will be considered with prayer. We cannot give to every good cause, so Clare and I decide together.  Cards with beautiful pictures go to the grandchildren to cut and paste to make their own cards.

In December 1928, just before the Great Depression, Mildred King walked into a card shop to look for a Christmas greeting for her brother.  Times were hard.  There was little she could afford to purchase.

Being British, she was attracted to a card with an illustration of a tartan-clad Scotsman reading by candlelight.  The message inside read, “Do not get careless and lose this card.  You can send it next year if times get hard.  So sign your name in pencil.”

For the next fifty years, Mildred King and her brother took turns signing their name and the date in pencil and mailing the card back and forth to each other.

After her brother died, Mildred felt sure that the card must have been discarded.  To her surprise, just a few days before Christmas, she opened an envelope, and there was the card, signed and dated in pencil by her nephew. The tradition continued into the next generation.

Christmas cards start appearing in our mail the day after Thanksgiving at our home. We receive them well after the New Year. These greetings from family and friends far and near are welcomed blessings in our home.  When our children return home for Christmas, they enjoy looking through the cards, especially those with family pictures and personal notes.

The tradition of exchanging Christmas cards began in the 1840s when Queen Victoria sent cards from her palace.  Within three years, commercial Christmas cards had been introduced throughout England.

The first commercial Christmas cards, commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843, featured an illustration by John Callcott Horsley. In 1875, Louis Prang introduced Victorian-style cards in the United States.  The first official White House card was sent in 1953 by President Eisenhower.

Many charitable organizations offer unique Christmas cards as a fundraising tool. The most famous are those produced by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The wonderful tradition of UNICEF Christmas cards began in 1949.

From the beginning, Christmas cards have been avidly collected. Queen Mary amassed an extensive collection that is now housed in the British Museum. Specimens from the golden age of printing (1840s-1890s) are especially prized and bring large sums at auctions. In December 2005, one of Horsley’s original cards sold for nearly $18,000.

Each year Clare and I order Christmas and Hanukkah postage stamps to use on our holiday mailings.  Many countries produce brightly colored official Christmas stamps. They usually depict some aspect of the Christmas tradition or a Nativity scene. These holiday stamps have also become collectibles. In 2004, the German Post Office gave away 20 million free scented stickers to make Christmas cards smell like a fir Christmas tree, cinnamon, gingerbread, honey-wax candles, baked apples, or oranges. I wonder if postal workers enjoyed those mingled aromas as they processed the mail.

Advances in digital photography and printing have provided the technology for people to craft their own cards. These computer-designed cards may include personal touches such as family photos and holiday snapshots.

Many people send cards to both close friends and distant acquaintances, potentially making the sending of cards a labor-intensive chore. 

In recent years, technology has led to the decline of the Christmas card.  E-mail and Facebook allow for more frequent contact with friends and family. Those in the younger generation, raised without handwritten correspondence, find addressing cards tedious.  Web sites now offer free online Christmas cards. Even Hallmark provides e-cards.

Some people take the annual mass mailing of cards as an opportunity to update everybody with their latest family news. They may include a Christmas letter reporting on the year’s events. I scan these lengthy epistles, but Clare reads them and points out details I should know.

Christmas letters meet with a mixed reception.  Family members may object to how the family Christmas letter presents them.  An entire episode of the popular television show “Everybody Loves Raymond” was built around conflict over the content of just such a letter.

Friends sent this parody of a Christmas letter to us. I include it because it is funny. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Dear Friends,

This has truly been another year of magic and wonder.

Kelly, almost 3, continues to amaze the professors at Harvard University with her aptitude in foreign languages.  She intends to spend this holiday translating War and Peace into Arabic and Cantonese.

Ernest, now 5, is growing by leaps and bounds. After getting his first set of building blocks, he seemed quite interested in large buildings. He designed his first skyscraper this year, and ground was broken in Hong Kong for the new Ernest McKnight Towers.

Janet had a busy year. Along with her work as President of the American Cancer Society, she has introduced a series of children’s novels and a line of handmade activewear. We are particularly proud of Mom. She is a starting forward on the United States World Cup Soccer Team.

Dan was immersed in his graduate school studies and accepted a Nobel Prize for his discoveries in quantum physics. We are proud of his work serving on the Board of Directors of IBM, Coca-Cola, and Walt Disney.

We were able to squeeze a little traveling in this year. We started in Aspen, went to Belarus, the Congo, Denmark, Ethiopia, the Falkland Islands, Greenland, Holland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Venezuela, and Zaire. Our trip sailing the new boat around the world was a great experience for the kids.

Other than that, it was a very quiet year. So from our household to yours, all the blessings of the season, and may your New Year be prosperous.

The McKnight Family,

Janet, Dan, Ernest, and Kelly

P.S.  Yesterday, we won the $150 Million Powerball Lottery.

It is a funny letter, but it misses the point of a Christmas greeting.

What is the purpose of a greeting card or a holiday letter?  I have often thought that the fruit of the Spirit delineated by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians would make a reliable guide for designing Christmas greetings. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Most of the virtues listed by the Apostle Paul as the fruit of the Spirit would make a lovely Christmas card, except for the last one. “May God grant you love, joy, and peace at Christmas” would be well-received. But imagine receiving a beautiful holiday card with the message, “Our prayer is that God will grant you self-control during the holidays.”

Come to think of it, that might be precisely what many of us need to hear.

The holidays for Jill were always hectic.  She operated a catering business from her home. She had numerous parties and receptions on her calendar. There was more to do than she could squeeze into her schedule.

One year she decided to send her Christmas cards early.  Jill was the kind of person who kept meticulous records from year to year of cards sent, and cards received.  She resolved to purge her list, striking from the list the name of any person who had failed to send her a card for the past two years.  Jill purchased the required number of cards and enough holiday stamps to mail them.  She added a brief greeting and her signature to each card before sending them ahead of the postal deadline. 

As Christmas approached, Jill received cards in her mailbox nearly every day.  Much to her chagrin, several of the people she had purged from her extensive list had sent her cards.  One busy Friday, while out shopping for Christmas gifts at a stationery store, Jill picked up a box of twenty-five generic holiday cards. She felt compelled to send a card to every person from whom she had received one.  She had mailed all but three of the additional cards to people previously expunged from her list by Christmas Eve.

A few days after Christmas, as Jill was paying her bills, she reached for one of the leftover generic cards, belatedly remembering that she had not even taken time to read the inside verse before she sent them. 

She opened the card and read in dismay:  “This little card is just to say, your Christmas gift is on the way.”  Oops!

Rushing through Christmas can be costly.  Not only can we become overextended in time, energy, and money, but we may also become depleted emotionally and spiritually. 

Many of our Christmas carols and Christmas cards remind us that we need calmness in our souls. Silence, stillness, and peacefulness are important to our most beneficial observance of this season. But these blessings can go with us into 2022. Finding the quiet center is the way to enjoy the season and preserve our sanity in the year ahead.

By the way, we don’t have to wait until December 2022 to stay in touch with those we love.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. His novel, December Light 1916, is a cherished holiday book. It is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. He can be reached at

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