Column by Jonathan Nagy
According to the Hallmark Greeting Card Company, Americans, on average, send 1.3 billion Christmas cards each year. Cards are sent in large numbers by families, individuals, and businesses. Many of these cards are mass produced with little personalization. Some people write quick messages while others write family updates and individual Christmas greetings. This tradition, which has been around since the mid 1840s, is a favorite of mine.
Despite the busyness of the Advent season, I make time to send out cards to family and friends, because I feel the simple gesture helps to spread the message of Jesus Christ to, “Go out to the world and tell the Good News.” However, as I recently reviewed my address list, I became saddened. My Great Aunt Margie, who passed away in March at the age of 91, was still on my list. While I have had to remove other dearly departed family members from the list in previous years, this one hit me differently. I suddenly did not feel the desire to send out cards this year.
When I would see Aunt Margie, she would always tell me that receiving my Christmas card every year meant so much to her. We would correspond back and forth by hand-written notes. Last Christmas, in what would be her final Christmas card to me, she wrote, “I received your card the other day and it was the one I have been waiting for. I know when I receive your card, that Christmas is here. I don’t write out cards anymore, but I ALWAYS write back to you. I have had a lot of health problems lately, and I know that my life is in God’s hands, so I hope that he takes me home soon.” God did just that a short three months later. Even now, a year after receiving her card, it still brings tears to my eyes to read such a moving, simple message, from such a wonderful lady. A seemingly simple gesture brought Aunt Margie so much joy and became something she looked forward to every year.
With Aunt Margie in mind, this year I want to write a Christmas letter to Heaven. My life has been impacted by so many who have gone before me, those I have known personally and those I have known spiritually. Here is my message to them:
To Everyone in Heaven,
First of all, Merry Christmas! I am sure that every day in Heaven is both Christmas and Easter, for you have experienced new birth and a resurrection with our Father! How wonderful that must be! There are many of you whom I wish to speak personally to in this letter.
First, to Jesus Christ, my loving Lord and Savior, you are the reason we celebrate the season. Your birth brought new hope to a world that was struggling to find it. Even today, this season brings hope and joy to many who have difficulty finding the light in the darkness of life. You humbled yourself to become like us to show us how to be more like you. The gift of your presence is the most precious, wonderful present that anyone could give. You are constantly there for me, and I could not be more grateful for all of the wonderful opportunities you have provided me. I hope to continue to do your will on Earth, with your loving help and guidance! Help me to bring your message of joy and hope to others!
To Mary, our Mother in Heaven, you are the epitome of humbleness. You accepted the will of God without hesitation, even knowing the circumstances in which you would find yourself. You submitted to the will of the Father, and as you said, ‘He looked with favor on his lowly servant.’ Indeed, the Almighty has done great things for all of us, and you are the example for us on how to lovingly accept and do His will. Continue to guide me daily, especially during those times when I do not think I can continue to do what I do. Your motherly love for me encourages me on my life’s path. Let me not go a day without thinking about what you sacrificed for all of us, and what very little is asked of me!
To Saint Joseph, your courage and bravery are hard to match. You knew the risk of taking Mary as your wife. You knew the dangers involved with taking her to far off Bethlehem, having nothing but the clothes on your back. You had faith that everything would turn out as God had planned, and what a story it has become for us! Thank you for not abandoning Mary, as many would have done. God chose you for a reason, for your steadfast strength is what was needed to bring His Son to birth. You show me that God has chosen me for a purpose. Thank you for being the example of a true, faithful man that I strive to be!
To all four of my saintly grandparents, some of my favorite Christmas memories were spent with you. Whether it be singing carols, enjoying a fantastic meal, exchanging gifts, or simply the joyous anticipation of seeing you, I reflect back warmly on those times. You brought our families together, welcoming so many into your homes, only wishing that we would stay longer. I think back and wish I had just a few more minutes with each of you.
To Pap Cordwell, one Christmas memory that is particularly strong in my mind was the year that you had to spend Christmas in HealthSouth Rehab after a recent hospital visit. None of us could let you do that alone, so we all came to visit you and spend time with you. I remember crying, thinking that this was how you were spending your holiday. You said that it was quiet, and you had a chance to reflect on Christmas. You assured me that you were fine, and everything that happens is in God’s plan. I have never forgotten that Christmas message. Another Christmas memory was the year you were too weak to attend services at your church. I stayed with you after Mass while Mom and Aunt Debi went to church. You and I sat and watched “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and had a memorable conversation, which I keep private and close to my heart always. These are memories I will forever cherish!
To Uncle Tom, you were the first person to inspire my interest in music. I remember all of the Christmases that you sat at the organ in Gram and Pap’s living room, playing Christmas carols while we all sang. I sat in awe at your talent and wished that I could be half the musician you were. It was your encouragement of my unlikely musical journey that convinced me to keep going. I remember once, in a conversation about my complete disbelief of how far I, an untrained musician, had come, you said, “God gave you an enormous amount of talent. He has a plan for you, and you make me, Aunt Wendy, and God, so very proud of you.” Thank you for just being the person that you were. I am picturing you in Heaven right now, playing the grandest of organs and directing the most majestic choir for our Lord!
To Father Bob Hilz, last Advent, after our parish penance service, you sought me out. You had the biggest smile on your face, and you said, “I knew I would see you here tonight. I have a Christmas present for you.” You reached into your folder and pulled out a hand-typed description of ‘Jesus the Teacher.’ You looked at me with so much joy and said, “As a teacher, you are carrying on the message that Jesus Christ told us to deliver to the people. You are doing great work, and I am so proud of you.” It is only fitting that you passed on during the season of Advent this year and you get to spend the most wonderful time of the season in Heaven with the Lord, with whom you share a birthday! Thank you for always encouraging me to continue to do the work that God has asked of me.
To everyone else that I have known in my life that is celebrating this Christmas in Heaven, know that you are all in my daily prayers. Some of you may not even realize the impact that you have made on me, through one kind word or action, or a simple message of encouragement. I am grateful for all of you, for you have helped to shape me into the person I am and continuously guide me to become the person I strive to be!
And finally, to dear Aunt Margie, thank you for reminding me what Christmas is all about. I know I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, stressing over every little detail that comes my way, and you, in your simple, loving way, showed me what really matters. I continue to send Christmas cards to others because of what they meant to you. I hope you are enjoying your first Christmas in Heaven, having great conversations with your brother, my pap. Until we meet again!
To everyone in Heaven, I hope that you have a very blessed Christmas with our Savior, as we here on earth celebrate his Nativity! Continue to look down on me as I continue to pray for you!
To everyone continuing to strive here on earth, may you and your family enjoy this most blessed season. Never forget that Jesus Christ is the reason for everything. Let him be the focus of your celebrations. I appreciate all of you, and your comments and encouragements about my writings have been heartwarming. This article is my Christmas card to all of you. May God bless you this Christmas and lead you into a prosperous and holy 2023!
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.