Friday, December 22, 2006
Stamps, packages and holiday cheer
Last Saturday, eight days before Christmas, hordes of Carlisleans descended on the post office, bearing boxes of every description and size — gaily decorated Christmas boxes, severely taped-up misshapen boxes and nondescript packages for overseas that required customs slips. The line stretched out to the door, quite a rarity for Carlisle, but everyone displayed abundant holiday cheer.
The postal workers on the front lines — Andrew and Chris — were unfailingly polite, cheerful and amazingly efficient, stamping and taping boxes, calculating postage, and asking routinely, "Anything fragile, liquid, perishable or potentially hazardous?" Lorraine sold stamps and handed out mail at a window outside the main area. Kevin was everywhere, racing back and forth between the counter and the back room. At one point he eyed one misshapen box the size of a baby elephant and measured it. It passed inspection.
Several residents started a conversation in line. "Remember when Kevin set up model trains here?" someone asked. "Oh, yes," said a man at the back of the line. "They were my trains!" Other customers traded compliments on the Carlisle Post Office:
"The line in Concord must be twice as long, and the people aren't nearly as nice." "My mother lives in Los Angeles and loves to come to the post office when she's here. It's so friendly.""I have a friend in Bedford who always comes here because everything's so easy."
A young woman staggered in with her packages plus a clear plastic container of cookies for the post office staff. An older woman came in, hurried over to Lorraine and asked, "Did you get some of the cake I brought in a few days ago?" Lorraine assured her she had.
Wendy Wallerstein, a postal worker who lives in Carlisle, emerged from the back room to check on supplies of cardboard boxes. She encouraged us to buy some of the products on display as last-minute gifts. "What about a penguin? — they're big this year," she suggested. We stared at the display of miniature mail boxes, a small stuffed polar bear and cub, and commemorative stamps for the collector. A man in front of me bought a large tote bag with a huge stamp pictured on it.
A customer worried whether her package would arrive at its destination before Christmas, and was assured by Chris that it would. "Some places will deliver mail on the Sunday before Christmas," announced a man in line. Wallerstein offered, "Kevin has been known to deliver mail on the Sunday before Christmas if it looks like a gift that didn't get delivered."
The line moved quickly and closing time — noon — was near. It was striking that everyone left the post office with a smile, not only because they had unburdened themselves of packages but also because Carlisle has the best of all possible post offices.
Happy holidays to everyone there — and especially to the mail carriers who delivered mountains of catalogs this season. You're the best.
Do you like chocolate chip cookies?
I see that the "Christmas Wars" debate still continues this year. It began some years ago when the greeting "Merry Christmas" changed into "Happy Holidays." It was an effort introduced not to offend any particular group of people. Ironically, it wound up offending many people and has even caused a backlash. This year several large malls have begun to use the greetings "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." The largest retail store in the world has brought back the greeting "Merry Christmas." I do believe that the generic terms denigrate any holiday celebration. Why can't we say "Merry Christmas" to our Christian friends and "Happy Hanukkah" to our Jewish friends? We have a similar problem when we start moving our holiday to a Monday so that we can enjoy a long holiday weekend. Often the meaning of the holiday is lost. Our veterans' organizations learned that lesson when Veterans' Day was moved to a Monday. They lobbied hard and long to return that observance to November 11 to restore the meaning of the day.
The holiday season makes sense for the business world. It is a time of success or failure for many merchants. During this season many of us exchange gifts with family and friends. We need to purchase Christmas trees and lights, decorations and special food. It is a natural time for sales people to provide us all of the things we need and desire. In the Christian Church we are now celebrating the season of Advent. It is our time to prepare spiritually for Christmas — for the birth of the Christ Child. The Church calendar tells us that Advent is a time of devout and joyful expectation. Advent is a time of waiting, recalling the centuries in which the people of Israel waited and longed for the Messiah — the promised one who would bring hope and justice and peace for all people. He would be called "Wonder Counselor, God-Hero, Father Forever and Prince of Peace."
During the Advent season, John the Baptist appears in the desert and cries out "Prepare the way of the Lord." In this season we should take time for reflection — on the meaning of what we celebrate, on the meaning of life. We should take inventory of ourselves to determine the direction of our own life journey. Certainly that is not long for any of us, so busy with our work, our families, and our obligations. Perhaps we need to set aside just a little time to reflect on the meaning of the season.
Many people have decried the commercialization of Christmas. But one writer recently noted that there is nothing about the pre-Christmas fun that has to upset Advent. That, I thought, was refreshing. So often we feel a conflict between our culture and our religious celebrations. Maybe we need to integrate our shopping for gifts, our exchanging of cards, our lights and decorations and parties into our total preparation for Christmas by adding in a few moments of reflection and prayer.
Christmas has a message for all people. The birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem is a promise of hope. He is born to be a Savior for all people, to bring about a new heaven and a new earth. He is born to be the Prince of Peace — to offer to all of us tired of violence and war the hope that one day all people may live together in harmony and peace.
© 2006 The