Christmas cards photo by St0rmz/Wikipedia

Giving the gift of yourself at Christmas

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By Mark Azzara

It’s Christmas week and I’ve finally found the top of my dining table.


For most of the preceding week my table was covered with boxes of blank Christmas cards, return-address labels, books of stamps, address lists, envelope stickers, a variety of pens, piles of incoming mail (including many unopened Christmas cards) and other assorted detritus. I ate at a TV table for days. Only now is the trash being cleared away.

There is something special about Christmastime for me, apart from the breath-taking arrival of God in human form. It’s also special because it reminds me of the value of the human beings around me. The annual dread of developing carpal-tunnel syndrome from writing out too many cards is offset by the knowledge that I now have the chance to communicate with roughly 120 people I care about but usually take for granted.

There are the guys in a men’s group, my friends from the prayer group, a raft of relatives (many of whom I haven’t seen in years), and a variety of folks from the places where I previously worked. I even write to two retired town clerks I got to know well when I was a suburban reporter decades ago.

I’ve been tempted many times to reduce my list of card recipients, but then I remember why they were put on the list in the first place and I have a hard time taking them off. For some of them I only have their work address, and as they retire it becomes harder and harder to stay in touch with them. But aside from that I pretty much stick to the list. In fact I added four people to the list this year, and suspect that I will continue to do so in the future.

Since we rarely communicate at any other time of year I also feel inspired to copy my brother’s tradition of writing an annual letter that summarizes what I’ve been up to for the preceding 12 months. I tell them about everything I can make a joke out of and everything that was truly inspiring. The only drawback: My black ink cartridge is now almost bone dry.

Writing the letter is cathartic because it forces me to rethink my entire year. I flip through the calendar to remember what I did and when I did it, and that triggers still more memories that must be shared and treasured anew.

I don’t consider this task to be a chore or something mandatory. I want to do it. I want to invest the time shopping for a box of cards (actually, more like four boxes) with a message that approximates what’s in my heart.

This desire to reconnect, once the heart of Christmas for many people, is becoming counter-cultural. Over the years I’ve noticed a marked decline in the number of cards I receive, which only confirms the sad reality confessed by the U.S. Postal Service that the number of Christmas cards mailed annually is dropping.

I don’t do any of this to get cards from those to whom I send cards. Christmas-card writing is a time of giving because I give a little of myself to others. That’s my only objective. I don’t have money to buy gifts for them, but I can at least give the gift of self.

You may not think much about the idea of giving the gift of yourself to someone. But from the reactions I’ve received I assure you it’s worth the effort, in part because it’s surprising how valuable that gift is for those who receive it.


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Mark Azzara

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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