“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
— Desmond Tutu.
“Family and friendships are two of the greatest facilitators of happiness.”
— John C. Maxwell
Keeping in touch
Back on All Saints Sunday, Nov. 3, I reread the Christmas letters we received in 2018. I began preparing to write our 2019 Christmas letter. In addition to these letters from the past, I have kept a folder in my computer listing events Jane and I have enjoyed and experienced in 2019. The list contained items I thought friends might enjoy knowing.
Why is this correspondence so important? Professor Karen Fingerman wrote, “People with high levels of what psychologists call social integration – those who participate in a broad range of relationships that consist of both intimate and weak ties – tend to be healthier and happier.”
Why is keeping in touch critical in our lives? In an Aug. 12, 2018 Star Tribune article “How our networks help our health,” this paragraph appears: “Decades of research suggest that having a diverse network of strong and weak ties is physically and psychologically protective. Maintaining various social roles, such as being a spouse, best friend, colleague and, say a member of a cycling club and the PTA, is associated with better cognitive functioning, better emotional and physical health, and a decreased risk of mortality in later life.”
I’m not planning to write the letter today, but I am beginning what I call “the incubation period.” It’s that span of time needed to decide what Jane and I think is important enough to be included in our Christmas letter we’ll mail early in December.
Historically, the Christmas card has been the basic vehicle connecting (keeping in touch) with the so-called “weak tie” folk (cousins, co-workers, friends from high school and college, neighbors from old neighborhoods and existing neighbors). The Christmas card, some with penned personal notes and others just containing the Christmas letter communicate to folk that they are remembered and valued.
Those with whom we have “strong tie” relationships get the Christmas card, the Christmas letter and also a more extensive personal note. In the event you’ve forgotten, the “strong tie” folk are immediate family members (brothers, children, grandparents, sisters and those special friends including favorite aunts and uncles). They are the people with whom we have constant contact via email, letters, telephone calls (“hang-outs” – “Facetime”), Twitter, etc.
Greeting Card Facts
Keeping in touch via greeting cards is not new. The ancient Chinese exchanged messages of goodwill when celebrating the New Year. The early Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to send greetings.
In 1415 Europeans exchanged handmade greeting including Valentine’s Day cards.
In 1843 Sir Henry Cole hired artist John Calcott Horsley to design a holiday card
Cole might send to his friends. Cole introduced the world’s first commercial Christmas card. In addition, Cole is credited with the design of the world’s first postage stamp.
In 1849 Esther Howland became the first publisher of valentines in the United States. She established a publishing firm that specialized in elaborately decorated cards.
In 1856 Louis Prang, a German immigrant, opened a lithographic business near Boston and. basically, founded the American greeting card industry. In 1866 Prang developed the color lithographic process. In 1875 Prang produced the first complete line of Christmas cards in America.
In an article “The Importance of Holiday Cards” written by Krystal D’Costa (appeared on Dec. 24, 2016 in the Scientific American), D’Costa wrote: The Victorians viewed responding to mail as a social obligation, and it is believed that Cole — though he worked for the post office — had fallen behind on his correspondence. So he asked an artist by the name of John Calcott Horsley to create a card for him. The final product read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You” and featured a festive family engaged in a toast. He mailed this to 1,000 people and was satisfied that he had fulfilled his social letter- writing obligation.”
Valuing three families
When I left Wishek, North Dakota in the early 1950s, most of my relatives were within a 100 miles or so. In the nearly 70 years that I’ve been gone, I’ve lost tract of most of the clan. For the past 60 years Jane and I have lived plus 400 miles from my hometown. When my folks were alive, Mom’s letters would contain information about the tribe. With her death, communication about the clan ended. Now, on rare occasion, someone sends me an obituary or an email which asks, “Did you know that so-and-so died?”
Members of the clan are scattered into almost every state in the union…plus some into Canada. I haven’t the faintest idea where most of my cousins live. We haven’t kept in touch! If I walked into a room with fifty of my cousins, I probably wouldn’t recognize one of them. We are total strangers. Frankly, in my ancient mind, that’s lamentable! It’s lamentable that I know much more of my ancestors, going back into the 17th century, than I know about my living relatives.
I think we often forget that we live our lives in families. In a sense we need to be aware of our connection to three different families: the families we are born into, the families we create and the families we establish through the people we choose as friends.
I wish that Jane and I would have started to send our Christmas letter to immediate and extended family members, as well as friends, the year (1955) we got married.
Why? Sending family and friends a yearly Christmas letter would have told them “you are valued”.
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”
— Rollo May