Essay by Luisa Kay Reyes


 

Christmas Cards

I was afraid. Yes, very afraid. I was mailing out my Christmas cards and I just didn’t know whether or not I should dare send one out to my Canadian pen pal. We were pen pals via one of the literary societies that I had joined. And she came across as a very nice person who was involved in social work. But when she asked me if I thought Trump would win before the Presidential election, my trepidation in replying was only matched by the overwhelming fear I currently felt over my Christmas card dilemma. “To send or not to send?” was the big question haunting me this Christmas season. It was so strange. Receiving a Christmas card in the mail was always a nice bright spot in the day for me. But, somehow, I couldn’t shake the fear that I might be doing something wrong if I sent her one.

In one of her recent letters to me she had said her sons were eagerly following the American election and she just couldn’t fathom Trump winning. Yikes! I thought to myself. I had travelled extensively over the summer throughout middle America. Driving from Austin,Texas to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And then from Alabama to Boston, Massachusetts with a stop in Ohio on the way back. I knew the media reports made it seem like a Trump victory was as impossible as searching for a needle in a haystack. However, as one of my Nancy Drew Mystery Stories once said, searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack is quite possible, provided one has the right magnet. And driving around middle America that summer, it certainly seemed like there was a powerful Trump magnet everywhere we went. Yard signs everywhere were proclaiming their support for Trump. So after debating whether or not to respond at all to my pen pal’s letter, I finally decided to write back what I had observed. That despite his many campaign failings, Trump had successfully tapped into the three “P’s” of the inner American psyche; prosperity, Providence, and patriotism. And my observations led me to believe that despite the “it is impossible” message of the various media reports, a Trump victory was quite possible.

I might not ever hear from her again. I thought to myself. Since with it being such a contentious election cycle it seemed like I was losing friends on both sides of the political divide no matter if I commented on the matter on social media or not. Thankfully, she did write me back after the election. In a very friendly manner, too. However, I decided I better not test her goodwill twice. So I erred on the side of caution and refrained from sending her a Christmas card.

After all, my Christmas cards always include the upbeat greeting of “Merry Christmas!” in them. I simply won’t buy them if they don’t include Christmas in their message. The noncommittal “Happy Holidays” message means nothing to me. Especially since I’m not a British person going on vacation in the South of France. And while I did go to London once during Spring Break and witnessed the biggest and largest snowflakes I have ever seen fall down from the sky. As an American there, I was on vacation. Not “on holiday”. I sighed, Trump was going to bring back Christmas. But, I didn’t know if Canada would fall within that realm or not.

I placed all my other Christmas cards in the mail and then proceeded to go ring the bell for The Salvation Army. And while trying to devise every way imaginable to stay warm ringing the bell in the rain, sleet, and snow; I started singing Christmas Carols. Going from “The Little Drummer Boy” to “Ave Maria” to “Away In A Manger” filled people with delight and helped fill up the red Salvation Army kettles quite nicely. However, not wanting to strain my voice, I sang for about an hour in the morning and then for another hour in the evening. Filling up the time in-between with a cheerful “Merry Christmas!” to all who walked past. My ebullience in sharing this simple Christmas greeting made even the most surly and scowling of poorly dressed men pull out their wallets and drop several dollar bills into the kettle. “Thank you! And a Merry Christmas to you, too!” was their most standard response.

How could something so innocent and uplifting all of a sudden be so controversial? I wondered. Of course, I’m not entirely ignorant. I do know there are other religious and belief systems out there. And, in fact, I did encounter them some while bellringing. One year, as I rang the bell for the Salvation Army in a grocery store in Ohio, a well built and rather good looking young man came charging towards me and said “I’m Jewish!” Well, “Happy Hanukkah!” was my reply. He was taken aback. And I made a mental note to myself to make sure I said “Happy Hanukkah” to him the next time I saw him. However, the next time he came up to me by surprise and I said “Merry Christmas!” first. He was not pleased, but I then told him “Happy Hanukkah!” After all, anything is better than the generic sounding “Happy Holidays!”

Another time, an Indian couple stopped by my Salvation Army stand as I was ringing the bell in a mall in Ohio. I was singing Christmas Carols as they walked past and they loved my voice. As they paused from their shopping to listen to me sing, the middle-aged looking fellow pulled out his wallet to drop some rather large greenbacks into the red kettle. I thanked him and with a very grateful smile told them “Merry Christmas!” The fellow’s wife did comment to him that I had said “Merry Christmas!” to them. “It didn’t matter” the fellow indicated with a shrug of his shoulders. And they both eventually ambled off with happy grins on their faces.

Then, just a few days before Christmas, I got a card in the mail. It was a Christmas card. And it was from Canada! I couldn’t believe it. Had my pen pal actually sent me a Christmas card, first? I wondered. And with anxiousness coursing throughout my entire self, I opened up the white more squarish shaped than rectangular shaped envelope, to find that all of my fears were allayed. The card was lovely and she was wishing me a “Merry Christmas!” Brimming over with excitement, I quickly dashed a Christmas card to her in the mail. With it being so close to Christmas Day I wasn’t sure if she’d receive it before then, or not. But, hopefully, it would arrive within the twelve days of Christmas from the 25th of December to epiphany. And we could all celebrate Christmas from here to Canada with a hearty and joyful “Merry Christmas!”

 

Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in Fire In Machines, Hofstra University’s The Windmill, Halcyon Days, Fellowship of the King, Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine, Route – 7 – Review, The Foliate Oak, The Eastern Iowa Review, and other literary magazines. Her piece, “Thank You”, is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature. And her Christmas poem was a first place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, her essay “My Border Crossing” has just been nominated for the Pushcart Prize by the Port Yonder Press.

Art can illuminate even the most elusive and difficult to comprehend ideas. Visual rules and tightly codified visual metaphors help scientists communicate complex ideas mostly amongst themselves, but they can also become barriers to new ideas and insights. Dr. Regina Valluzzi’s images are abstracted and diverged from the typical rules and symbols of scientific illustration and visualization; they provide an accessible window into the world of science for both scientists and non-scientists.

 

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