Traditions run deep in our family, especially around the holidays. There's something comforting about repeating the same rituals year after year knowing that some things never change no matter how many years go by.
Growing up on the Cottonwood Valley Dairy Farm, we eagerly looked forward to participating in family Christmas customs passed down through generations. Every year, for example, we put up a real Christmas tree -- no artificial imitation in a box for us. And we baked a smorgasbord of sugary sweets to be eaten and enjoyed only on Dec. 25 and not a day before.
One tradition stands out from all the rest, my mom's love of Christmas cards. It was her way to reconnect once a year with family and friends both near and far.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, she would pull out her address book from the kitchen drawer and meticulously check and recheck the names and addresses on her list to ensure the information was up to date.
With Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" playing in the background, Mom spent hours over several evenings writing in each card the details of the year's significant family news and events. When finished, she checked the name off the list and moved on to the next. I would help attach the return address labels and stamps on the envelopes and put them in the mailbox the next morning.
Of course, not just any Christmas card would do. Mom always purchased the finest selection Hallmark had to offer, each box with a religious theme. The cards were an extension of her deep faith and devotion to celebrate the "reason for the season." She always made sure to have a plentiful supply of cards on hand, as well. Mom would drive to town the day after Christmas to stand in line outside the drugstore to replenish her stock for the following year. Half price, naturally.
Mom's joy of sending Christmas cards was only surpassed by her love of receiving them. The mailman generally arrived shortly after lunch. Mom would impatiently look out the window as the designated time approached. As the rural carrier finally pulled up to the mailbox, she would rush outside to retrieve the prized greeting cards.
She immediately sat down at the kitchen table and opened each envelope, taking time to first carefully examine the card inside. Mom sat silently as she read, immersed in her own thoughts. Her expression would change depending on the news in each card -- a smile, a frown, a slight nod.
When done, Mom put each card back in the envelope and placed it in a wicker basket. She kept the basket in the dining room on top of the heat register cover next to her favorite recliner. Many evenings were spent in the recliner rereading each card just in case she had overlooked something the first time through.
As our family rang in the New Year and took down the Christmas decorations and tree, Mom would take the basket of cards and compare each return address against her own list before throwing them away.
Mailing Christmas cards is a tradition I carry on to this day. Like my mom, I review my address list before writing our family letter, "The Hillyer Herald."
This year, there will be one less Christmas card to send.
Mom passed away in May. The matriarch of our family was 91. This will be our first Christmas without her, and the emotions are still raw. For now, I plan to keep Mom's name on my list indefinitely as a constant reminder of her and the treasured tradition she passed down to her son.
Write Gregg Hillyer, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @GreggHillyer
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