88 Christmas Letters

A lot of things are being cancelled or moved online this Christmas. No big family gatherings, no visitors from abroad, no Christmas markets or Christmas parties. So many things are being taken away from our usual Christmas traditions. It seems like a cruel blow at the end of what’s already been a tough year for many. 

Though this year has been tough for lots of people, one of the groups that I really feel for this year are people in retirement homes. They get no visitors and in a lot of places they are eating all their meals in their rooms rather than all eating together as they usually do. These are great safety measures, of course, but really challenging for people who often already feel isolated.

My grandmother died on December 14, 2019. Though I miss her a lot, I am also grateful that she could go when she did. She always enjoyed our visits, especially seeing the kids. We would have lunch with her at the retirement home, make paper boats to sail on the fountain seas in the courtyard, and visit the guinea pigs, goats and chickens they had there. The kids would get to ride on her walker and they knew she always saved the little chocolates that were served with afternoon coffee for them. In 2020 we would not have been allowed to visit. We could have gone by and waved at her through the window, but that obviously isn’t the same. She would’ve spent even more time in her room, watching TV and seeing things deteriorate all over the world. I’m glad she was spared all that.

As I thought of her this year and especially this season, I decided I wanted to write Christmas cards to everyone in her retirement home. I figured they could use a small piece of joy and something that could not be cancelled or taken away. I called the retirement home, told them my plans, and asked how many residents they had. 88.

88 Christmas cards. I didn’t have a very good concept of how many that is in practice, but I was determined to go through with it. 

The kids drew some cute pictures and I used my Cricut to make some cards. My written German leaves something to be desired, so I wrote something up, had my mom check the grammar and spelling and then just wrote that same message on all the cards. I got to 15 and realized I was in over my head. My husband suggested making photo copies of the text. I was appalled at first, insisting I would hand write every one. It didn’t take too long, though, to realize I would either lose motivation or the use of my right hand if I continued on this way. So we made photocopies of the text as well as 3 different designs the kids had drawn. Honestly, you can’t tell they’re copies. With this method in place things went a bit quicker, but we still had to make the cards. We would use one design for several cards and then switch to another. We spent many evenings watching Crown and assembling Christmas cards. 

We made the last 5 cards on Sunday, December 13th. On December 14th, one year after my grandmother passed away, we loaded up the bicycle with kids and cards and delivered them to the retirement home. We had hoped to let the kids wave to some of the ladies that they knew, but the place looked abandoned. We left the box of cards with a staff member and went on our way.

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Our box of 88 Christmas cards, ready to be delivered.

This is definitely not going to be a yearly tradition for us, but I’m very glad we did it this year. I hope it brought some joy to the residents and taught my children the value of thinking of others, especially during this busy season.

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My grandmother (90) with my youngest daughter just after her birth, November 2019.
So glad she got to meet her, even if just briefly.

Photo of author

About the Author

Christine Bliven is a certified doula, childbirth educator, and babywearing consultant who is passionate about helping new families get a good start by providing resources, tools, and practical tips. She lives in Zürich, Switzerland with her husband and three kids.

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