This morning I finally took the time to go through a stack of unopened Christmas cards.

One of the cards was from my aunt and uncle who took a professional picture with their entire family. This includes five children, a boatload of grandchildren, spouses and partners, all with color coordinated outfits on a beach someplace warm during a family vacation.

I’m confident every time my aunt and uncle look at that picture it takes their breath away, again and again.

My family on the other hand, took our picture after the church service last Wednesday night. My husband and teenage son both were questioning why "this" was the perfect time for the picture. I calmly replied, “because I needed to order cards yesterday, now smile.”

We do what we can. Some of the cards are from people I connect with daily, those who call me as they are driving to or from work, or text me to let me know my favorite store has a sale.

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Others are from people I haven’t seen in years, yet we still share this tradition each Christmas to reach out to one another, if only through a card.

A few of the cards included a letter. You know the kind, right? The ones where the sender types out an overview of the year, a recap covering each individual family member, their hobbies and highlights.

Personally, I do not send out a letter to accompany our card yet love to read those we receive. I imagine those who write these enjoy the reflection of the year, smiling as they scan through memories.

Call me cheesy, but I enjoy thinking about the joy this act brings to the writers of these letters. And of course, this leads me to reflect on my own family’s highlights of the year as well.

Each December I review my list of family, friends and clients to whom I plan to send a card. I update addresses, sometimes erase a name due to a divorce, add a name due to marriage, or delete an address of someone who has passed on during the year.

This step in my own card-sending created unexpected emotions for me as I consider how lives change year after year. I can’t help but think about how Christmas isn’t glitter and sparkles for everyone, this is a hard time of year for many.

For those going through struggles I can’t even imagine and or are mourning the absence of those who are no longer in the pictures.

A stack full of Christmas cards isn’t just a bunch of photo paper or card stock. For me, that stack of cards was a gentle nudge to share how much one can gain by looking at the cards more deeply than just the smiling faces. Behind each of those pictures is a story, emotions, connections, memories, highlights, challenges, and even pain.