As drifts of Christmas cards land on our doormat each morning, amid frantic barking from the terriers (who clearly view this arrival as a dangerous tresspass) I tend to feel overwhelmed by the number of people with whom we're connected, however loosely.
My parents both died when I was 18, and at that stage I continued to remember those on their Christmas card list, - mainly to reassure these concerned adults of the continued survival of their friends' daughter through Cambridge and beyond. Suprisingly, many of those contacts have lasted through the intervening years, but of course they have been joined by so many new friends.I have tried to be fairly ruthless about excluding people who are now little more than names on a list, but even so it's been a good while since the writing of cards was a positively enjoyable task, in the days when I could manage a proper hand-written letter for each recipient. Now it's almost more than I can do to offer a brief prayer for each person as I sign and stick on the address labels.
Last year, my first in ordained ministry, the volume of cards far outstripped the space we had to put them up and I was hugely relieved when my vicar confirmed that there was no way that we could possibly send individual cards to all the parishioners who might remember us, -so we put up a large card from both clergy households in church. This year, I hoped we could go further as a parish, so our magazine in November carried the suggestion that instead of exchanging cards with people whom we would see each Sunday of the year, we all signed a giant card and sent the savings to Present Aid. I hoped we might raise enough for a herd of goats, or at least a flock of chickens, and intial signs look promising. But what made my heart dance when I looked at the signatures yesterday was one rather wobbly inscription in heavy black ink
He first appeared in our church last month, when the way that the congregation handled his rather inebriate presence during Evensong filled me with hope and relief. His failure to reappear in the days that followed had left me anxious, specially as the winter began to bite just after he wandered off into the darkness in search of a friendly tree beneath which to shelter. But he's alive, praise be, and what's more feels friendly enough towards our church to join in our Christmas card, which has suddenly become one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.