Christmas is all about love, but there's one aspect to Christmas that I don't like at all. I don't think of myself as a curmudgeon, but the fact is that I never send out Christmas cards.
Well, almost never. I send Christmas greetings to people I won't see during the holiday season and who don't have an email address.
It seems kind of silly to me to send a card to someone you see regularly, someone you can say Merry Christmas to face to face.
To prove that I'm not an old grump, I first started rebelling against the Christmas card tradition when I was in my twenties. I worked at a research laboratory at the time, and every Christmas season just about each one of the lab's several hundred employees faithfully sent cards to every other employee.
There's something wrong with this, I told myself. After all, we see each other every day of the working week. We even have a Christmas party the last working day before the holiday. Why send cards when you can offer cheerful greetings in person?
I concocted a plan. I asked my co-workers to figure out how much they spent on Christmas cards, and then instead of buying cards, donate the money to UNICEF, the United Nations operation that — among other things — helps poor children around the world. Then we'd buy one card, everybody would sign it, and we'd post it on the lab's bulletin board.
Worked fine. We donated hundreds of dollars each year to UNICEF, and always got a nice thank-you card back from them. We felt good about helping children. That's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?
As the years wore on, I began to realize that what's sauce for the goose can be sauce for the gander, also. So, little by little, I stopped sending Christmas cards.
Of course, after a couple of years I stopped getting as many cards as I had earlier. But that didn't bother me. With email and telephone I can reach just about all my friends and relatives. The ones I can't reach any other way get a card.
Some people, though relentlessly send out cards, year after year, whether I return the favor or not. Once you're on their mailing list, you're there to stay. Many of these cards aren't even signed; the sender's name is printed on the card. Kind of cold, I think.
But, cards or no cards, Christmas is still a wonderful time of the year. Especially if there are children to give gifts to.
I remember one year, when my grandsons were very little. T.J., the older one, was just learning to read. Danny was two years younger. They were both bright and happy little guys.
My late wife, Barbara, and I took the boys to Toys R Us and told them they could have any toy they wanted. But only one toy each.
They went through that store like a pair of detectives hunting for clues. They examined every package. T.J. read each label, every last word, down to the fine print. Up and down every aisle they went, examining, considering, deciding.
At last they made their picks and we started toward the checkout counter, each boy clutching the one toy he had so carefully chosen.
When they turned around, though, their was Grandma pushing a shopping cart piled so high with toys she could barely see where she was going.
"Grandma!" said the boys, shocked. "You said only one toy each!"
"Oh, that was for you," said Grandma. "I can buy as many as I like."
And she did. Most of them were toys the boys had considered but reluctantly put aside in favor of a better choice.
It was a happy Christmas.
Christmas is basically about love, and the one lesson I've learned about life is that more you love, the more you can love. Love is expandable. It's not limited.
I've fallen in love again, even though I thought that when Barbara died I was finished with loving forever. Not so. My dearest friend, Rashida, has become my fiancee, which makes this Christmas — and every day of the year — very special for me.