WHEN I was a youngster, I hoarded the Christmas cards my family received every year. Two things about the cards enchanted me: First, they were so pretty. The illustrators' rendition of Christmas - perhaps a Nativity scene or a sleigh filled with happy passengers moving across a snowy, country road - also provided a wonderful vicarious experience for a child growing up in the city. Second, and more important, was the message printed in each card. I especially liked the verse that rhymed, or even the occasional blank verse if it was sufficiently lengthy to tell a nice story or a good moral.
I also liked the cards in which the message was provided entirely by the sender. Some were written in Italian, others in imperfect English, and still others in a combination of the two languages. No matter, the warm feelings of the authors always seemed to hit the right spot in the reader, and I can recall pulling out the cards periodically throughout the year to bring back a little of the spirit of Christmas.
Of course, we made and wrote our own Christmas cards in school, and it seemed to be the one time of the year my teacher, Miss Talbot, was a bit more tolerant of our cut, paste, crayon, and literary handiwork.
The Christmas cards made an indelible mark on my young mind because they represented an ideal world, with people loving other people, with the Star of Bethlehem shining brighter than other stars, with giving as the hallmark of an individual's activity.
The good news is that there are countless individuals who live up to these Christmas card ideals throughout the entire year. We know them - in our family, our neighborhood, among our co-workers, even people we don't really know but observe time and again as we go about our daily rounds.
These Christmas card people go unheralded in a world that thrives on publicity. Yet they remind us that the spirit of Christmas lives every day. While they may not be as glossy, embossed, or articulate as the Christmas cards I cherished as a child, they touch our lives - raising our spirits, stirring us to count our blessings, and making our world a better place in which to live.
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.