The photo attached to this blog post isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken, but it is one of the ones that’s had the most impact on me. It’s a very special Christmas card.
Now, I have a long history with Christmas cards. My mom always sent Christmas cards. I remember in earlier, more affluent years going with her to the printer’s shop to select a card from the options pasted onto big, stiff pages in the sample card books. After she’d picked her favorite, she’d instruct the staff person what greeting to print inside. Weeks later, a box of printed cards would arrive at our house, and the dining room table became Christmas card central. Before my handwriting was deemed acceptable for purposes of addressing cards, I was the chief licker and sticker of stamps and return address labels. Yes, younger generation, we had to lick stamps to affix them to envelopes. Plus, you had to lick glue on the the envelope flap to get a proper seal. And we did this while walking uphill both ways in the snow, because life was harder then.
The first Christmas card that ever came in the mail addressed to me alone showed up in 1965. It came from a girl in my first grade class who clearly was light years ahead of the rest of us in terms of sophistication. Not only did she send her own Christmas cards – carefully addressed to so-and-so at X address, CITY, because she was worldly enough to know that you didn’t have to write out “Beaumont” on each envelope if the addressee was in the same city as the sender – but she also had lived in New Jersey and owned a pair of go-go boots. To top it all off, in the third grade she decided that the spelling her name, Linda, was boring, so she changed it to a much more cosmopolitan Lynda. I doubt whether a more with-it chick has ever graced the halls of Sallie Curtis Elementary.
Later, Mark and I (by which I mean I) used to send lots of Christmas cards. Ours always went out early. Before the children were born, that was because I took pride in being so organized that I could get my cards done early. After Jane and Mary arrived, life was super busy during the holidays, and the choice on mailing cards was between early or never. In those years, I occasionally realized that I was accomplishing Christmas instead of celebrating it, but that’s another blog post altogether. In any event, the number of cards we send has dwindled over the years, and this year this post and Facebook are about all the greetings we’re likely to send. But they are greeting nonetheless, and we carry in our hearts loved ones past and present even if we don’t – or can’t – communicate with them.
All of this leads me to the picture. It’s not great art; The perspective on Mary’s face is a tiny bit off, so she looks a little flat, and I’ve never been a fan of the School of Radioactive Jesus. But this card means a lot to me, because it was drawn by a prisoner in the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland. Over 115,000 people were sent to that camp; 65,000 of them died. Prisoners were forbidden to make art, but they did anyway, in secret. This card was one of those secret pieces. It now resides in a glass case along with other small drawings in the Stutthof barracks. These drawings survived; I have no idea whether the maker of this card or its recipient did.
Imagine the nightmare of spending your Christmas in a concentration camp. Death, hunger, and cruelty are your daily lot in life. Illness is everywhere, and you’re always cold. But in the midst of this misery, where despair seems logical and hope ridiculous, someone draws this picture. Look at the drawing. It’s the incarnation of God literally juxtaposed with the barbed wire of the camp’s fence. “Glory to God in the highest” is written underneath. The praise song that the angels sang to the shepherds defies the cold and the hunger and the pain and the aching knowledge that chances are you won’t leave the camp alive. Want to know what faith is? It’s right here, on a hand-drawn, anonymous, unlikely Christmas card.
So open your mailboxes and your emails and enjoy the Christmas cards you’ve received. From beautiful artistry to beglittered renderings of Santa and Frosty the Snowman, they surely were sent with love and goodwill. As for me, I offer you greetings of the season from Stutthof. Glory to God in the highest. Peace to all on Earth. And let the people say amen.