Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
Readers will now be writing or receiving Christmas cards. This is a task that can be time-consuming and sometimes expensive but it is one that I particularly look forward to. I do not find it a burden at all; rather I find it an opportunity for a spiritual exercise, or to be more exact, a series of exercises. I share my experience because it is something that I have always found helps me enormously in my spiritual preparation for Christmas and some readers may find that it helps them.
First, I always make my own cards. This usually means writing a poem on paper and copying it on to cards. This in itself creates an opportunity to reflect on the Christmas Gospel and draw some fresh insights from it; to read around a little and spend some time early in Advent reacquainting myself with the Gospel narratives.
Secondly, I write the addresses on the envelopes. This is my first opportunity to pray for the recipients – some of whom I have not seen for years. In a profound way the Christmas cards are Christ-centred and writing the addresses and reflecting on my relationship with the addresses invites me to put Christ at the centre of our connection – however it may have come about.
Thirdly, I write the cards and when I can I write a short message. In the parishes I serve, it is usually a note of thanks for their help, or might pledge a specific prayer of intercession of them. This is not an overly pious exercise but has a quiet domestic setting, usually accompanied by a mug of tea at the kitchen table! As soon it becomes ‘hard work’, I stop and go back to it later. I do prefer it to be a labour of love rather than an act of duty. By the time this article is published I will have been pecking away at my list for a few weeks.
My pleasure in sending them is matched the joy of receiving them. I do realize that some cards that are received are the outcome of some office’s Christmas routine, and I also recognize that some arrive out of mixture of motives, but that does not account for the majority. The majority are from people who have an affection or regard for me and my wife. They are tokens of love and thankfulness and sometimes a reconnection with precious times past. we have a nightly Advent ritual of reading cards received during the day after supper. This often provokes conversation and discussion that in turn can inform our prayer and actions, helping us order some priorities for the next few months, or the next year.
Last but by no means least some of the cards received are beautiful. we receive several each year that are works of art in their own right, often bringing to us light and insight into the Nativity of our Lord. In addition there are the wonderful reproductions of paintings, some of them unknown to us, which open up new perspectives on the Christmas Gospel. we have a collection of favourites from over the years that are part of our Christmas decorations. For me Christmas cards are not ‘humbug’ or a waste of time or money but one of the most rewarding aspects of Advent and Christmas.