The faces of Christmas

Americans mailed over 1.5 billion (billion!) Christmas cards in 2010, about 45 percent of all greeting cards sent in the U.S. throughout the entire year. For me personally, there are few Christmas traditions I enjoy more than sending and receiving Christmas cards. But why? What is it about Christmas cards that makes them such an enduring part of celebrating Christmas?

I think the first Christmas when cards really stood out to me was Christmas of 2004. I was in graduate school in Austin, and my wife and I were 1,300 long miles away from home. It was the second Christmas since our wedding in 2003, but our first Christmas with a baby. And our first Christmas alone. Just the three of us. Our eight-month old daughter was too young to take on a trip back home to see family, so my wife and I put up a small, artificial Christmas tree (discounted at Walmart) in the only small space we could find in our two-bedroom apartment and tried to make our apartment look and feel something like our memories of the Christmases we had enjoyed with family and friends in the past. I wondered if Christmas could possibly be the same on our own.

To be honest, I was pretty sure it couldn't. Our daughter was still too young to realize there was anything to celebrate, our lives were busy with work and school, and there was something a little unexciting about the thought of the three of us opening presents by ourselves on Christmas morning. We couldn't really afford to buy much for each other anyway. And to top it all off, I was pretty sure it would be the first Christmas in my 27 years of life that there would be no snow anywhere to be seen. Dreaming of a white Christmas, indeed.

Into that setting of our first Christmas on our own, a Christmas card or two arrived in the mail in early December. Then it seemed like a steady flow of one or two additional cards would arrive most days.  Some from friends in Texas, some from family and friends spread out around the country, but most of all they were cards from home. Almost without our noticing it, something about the cards brought a little more of Christmas into our apartment that year. We began taping the cards to the back of our apartment front door, and before we knew it, our apartment felt a little more like home.

The cards didn't fill every void we felt that Christmas, far away from home. It was still the quietest, smallest Christmas celebration of our married life. But at one point, it dawned on us that the first Christmas was celebrated by a pretty small family too. I like that part of our memory. And the cards on our door helped us to feel the love of family and friends out of sight--but definitely not out of mind.

Every Christmas since that year (most of which we've spent in Texas, separated from our extended family), the essence of the Christmas spirit is the joy and laughter and love we see in the faces of the people in the beautiful cards that arrive and brighten our celebration of Christ's birth. The faces of Christmas. Our eight-month old baby is almost ten years old now. She and her siblings enjoy seeing the cards as much as we do. Whether we are close to home or far away, Christmas cards will always be one of our favorite parts of celebrating the Christmas season. Looking at a few of our cards from this year, I think you'll see why.

Nate Sharp is an associate professor in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University and currently serves as bishop of the College Station 3rd ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He grew up in Holladay, Utah, served a full-time mission for the Church in the Korea Seoul West mission from 1996-1998, and later graduated from Brigham Young University and the University of Texas at Austin. He married Holly Carroll in 2003, and they are the proud parents of five beautiful children.

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