I am a sucker for all things Christmas. The lights, the music, the food, the gifting. All of it thrilled me from the time I was barely old enough to form memories.
One of the things that thrilled me most – as geeky as this sounds – was receiving Christmas cards. We taped those cards to the latticework running beside our staircase, and occasionally we would have so many cards, I thought we might have to tape some to the ceiling.
I loved the beauty of those cards. They were like ornaments in their own right, gifted to us from people near and far. Some of them contained short letters catching us up on events. Others provided pictures of children I usually didn’t recognize. But none of that mattered. It was a time of year when everyone was spreading good cheer, and those strips of folded cardstock were a delight in my eyes.
I think my mother kept every greeting card she ever received. After she passed away, we found boxes of cards dating back to the 1940s, and I fell in deeper love with this holiday tradition. If you’ve never held an old lithographic Christmas card, you’re missing a delight. The paper is fine quality, and the printing is gorgeous. The paintings, sketches and drawings featured on those cards are superb in their own right, and the letters from relatives are simply priceless.
One such card from 1946 was constructed of soft linen and folded in fourths. As was often the case with these old cards, a letter was written inside its folds. In this letter my aunt was wondering where my parents were and why they didn’t make it to town when expected. It made me wonder what calamity had occurred to have kept my parents away, but I assumed all was well since they lived to bring me into the world decades later.
Another fine specimen, also on linen and folded in fourths, came from my mother’s grandparents. This 1952 creation was snazzy with a velvet front cover, and the card opened out to reveal a letter wherein Granny wrote this:
Two observations about Granny’s letter:
Observation #1: I knew Mom and Dad moved quite often during their early years together, but before reading all of these Christmas letters I was unaware that they failed so miserably at keeping loved ones apprised as to their whereabouts.
Observation #2: Grannies can hunt you down and guilt you regardless of time or distance.
The number of cards sent and received has diminished since the year my parents received that exquisite greeting from their fussy granny, and that loss saddens me. I have sorted through decades of holiday cards that I found mesmerizing and even magical as they transported me back to a time before I was born – back to a time when my parents were young. How I wish I could pop in on them and interact with them, not as their daughter, but as a random stranger!
In addition to the beauty of these cards, they offered a reporting on important events, a deeper glimpse into daily life and relationships through the years, and on occasion, a bit of a mystery. Those little mysteries made me wonder what might happen if one of those cards truly was magic, if that card contained a mysterious greeting, and if I could go back in time and experience Christmas as they would have. And that is when the plot for Magic in the Cards sprang to life.
Once again, I found charm in the cluttered boxes of gems my mom saved…but that’s a topic for another book entirely.