Growing up, I loved helping my mom prepare our Christmas cards. When I was younger my job was to lick the stamps (back when that was a thing) or add the return address label, but later I got to address them and sign each family member’s name.
When cards and letters arrived, we grabbed tape and lined them up over the archway going from the kitchen to the living room, moving on as that space filled up to other spots around the living room. I loved seeing those reminders of people that cared about us, family and friends near and far that took time to send a note during the holidays.
My mom would read aloud the letters that were stuffed in the envelopes along with the card, telling us all about this distant cousin’s children’s marriages and adventures, or that old acquaintance’s life updates from the year. Mostly I didn’t know who these people were other than by stories and memories told by my parents, but I loved hearing these letters or reading them on my own later on.
Do you have fun memories of Christmas cards and letters as a kid (or adult)?
This week we are reading the short story “At Christmas Time” by Anton Chekhov, which revolves around a Christmas letter.
This story made me think of this community, our sisterhood of women who are also often far away from mothers and daughters and sisters at the holidays. The mother in this story, Vasilisa, has not heard from her daughter for years. She and her husband cannot read or write, and I can’t imagine the ache of loneliness and isolation they must have felt!
Today we have the gift of technology at our fingertips. We can FaceTime or Skype at a moment’s notice, fill a package with goodies and mail it with at least some confidence that it will arrive unscathed at its destination. We can even create holiday greeting cards and mail them back to our passport country in time for Christmas!
Vasilisa and her husband did not have any of these options, instead they hired a man in the village to transcribe a letter for them. I’m not sure this procedure went exactly as they planned, and I found myself a bit frustrated with the letter writer for his creative license as he added his own thoughts and directives. What did you think of the letter that was written by the man in the village?
Yefimya, the daughter, is overwhelmed with joy when she receives this letter. How sad that her husband was too distracted to actually mail the letters that she wrote to her parents! I wonder how this would have changed and shaped how each one dealt with the separation.
I know every piece of mail that found its way to my little post office mail box in Phnom Penh meant the world to me! The post office was all the way across town so I really only checked it when I knew something was coming or my teammate and I got a call that a package had arrived for us. When we lived outside the city, these post office trips were even fewer and farther between, but it made it even more exciting to see what might be waiting in that box!
The end of the story leaves us hanging, with this interesting phrase from the daughter’s husband, Andrey Hrisanfitch. He says, “Charcot douche” as he bids a general goodday from the hydropathic establishment where he works. According to the introduction of the story, this phrase means, “a restorative bath intended to stimulate the vascular and lymphatic systems” but also could signal restoration of the relationship between the daughter and her parents and even a possible reunion.
So what do you think happens? Do the daughter and son-in-law make a trip to the village to visit her parents? Is the daughter able to write a letter to her parents, and continue to stay in touch now? Does the son-in-law have a change of heart?
Tell us about your Christmas communications! Do you send cards or letters, a special Christmas newsletter or festive video greeting? I’d love to hear about it!
Next week I’ll be counting down a list of my top 5 books of 2019! I’d love to hear more about what you read this year as well. I’m always up for more book ideas!