Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Twas Three Days Before Christmas and I Didn't Send Cards

I didn’t send Christmas cards this year. Not a decision I made lightly. After all, I wrote a research paper in graduate school on the longevity of the greeting card, my thesis being that regardless of advances in technology, people still get that excited twinge when they receive a personal card in the mail. I do.

In fact, each year, as I pull down my Christmas ornaments (about ten seconds after Thanksgiving dinner concludes), I wade through my Christmas cards from the previous year. Oh yes, I keep them. This year as I read through the 2009 cards, it struck me that no one (except Grandma Noon) actually writes anything in their cards. Instead, I have pictures of all of my friend’s kids with their pre-printed family name at the bottom.

So this year my struggle was two-fold. First, do I schedule some pricey photo shoot so I can send a picture of me and … oh, I don’t know, the dog, to my friends and family? Or, do I skip the fanfare all together?

At about the same time I was lamenting, one of my Facebook friends posted the news that her annual Christmas newsletter was finally complete. I had to chuckle. (And privately message some other Facebook friends to share my snarky comments.) Now, I have never actually received a “Christmas Newsletter” from anyone, yet the stories associated with said newsletters often rival that of a fruit cake. Meaning, no one actually wants to receive one.

Anyway, that got me thinking. Isn’t the purpose of Christmas to send good tidings and cheer to others? So, how does reading about the mundane happenings of your family’s past 365 days bring the Christmas spirit to my house? And then … it hit me. Facebook may be the new Christmas Newsletter.

Just brushed your teeth? Status update! Just wet the bed? Status update! Just made a tuna sandwich? Status update!

Just put a piece of tinsel on the tree? Status update! Just bought extra tape? Status update! Just yelled at Lord & Taylor for cancelling your order instead of shipping your order (this actually happened, but you won’t see if on my Facebook page)? Status update!

But, I digress. Back to the Christmas cards. I scratched them from my to-do list and felt an immediate sense of relief. Right up until the first card arrived in my mailbox. And, ever since that first pang of guilt hit, I haven’t been able to stop obsessing about the year I didn’t send Christmas cards, as it will forever be known.

As any good obsessive compulsive should – I ensure that Christmas is a well-orchestrated machine. I make sure that all of my rolls of wrapping paper match, that all my ribbons match that wrapping paper, that my tags match my ribbon, that my gifts are themed (yes, I’m that person) and that every card includes a personal note – a connection with the recipient - which is exactly the reason why I skipped cards this year. I couldn’t muster the energy to write personal notes to my ever growing list. My worry over whether or not I would think of something clever to say overwhelmed me. And, now I feel like crap.

I realize that this is not your problem. However, I also realize that the majority of my Christmas card list is probably reading this right now. (Light bulb!) So, now that I have your attention, I wanted to let you know that my column today is dedicated to you. Yes you, my friend, who means so much.

Close your eyes. Well open them now silly, or you won’t be able to keep reading. Geesh. Picture a card. It’s a nice one -- weighty card stock, glitter, ribbons, foil lined envelope – only the best for my dear friend. And the message inside, pure poetry, courtesy of one of the world’s most recognized writers --

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

You lift my spirit all year round, with laughter, smiles, silliness, emails and yes, status updates.

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

Crossing the Line appears every other Wednesday. You can reach Courtney at

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Where Will You Find Christmas?

Bluffton Today column
December 8, 2010

I remember it like it was yesterday, when in fact it was nearly 1,500 days ago. After talking to the humbled father on the phone, to get an idea of what his children wanted or needed for Christmas, we agreed on a meeting place for the following Saturday.

When I pulled into the dirt parking lot with dust flying, one vehicle car sat off to the side. As I got out of my car and popped the hatch, the door on the lone white minivan slowly opened. A gentleman walked forward, hands in his pockets, head hung.

As he lifted his eyes to meet mine, I noticed the tears welling. He put out his hand, introduced himself and starting thanking me before I could even utter a word or show him what I had selected for his girls.

Once the gifts, that his daughter’s had been asking for from Santa, were loaded into his car, he thanked me again. And then he stood there. In silence. I’m sure I cocked my head to the side, as I do when I am questioning someone. He responded by holding out his arms and pulling me into a warm hug. As we embraced I could feel him holding back the sobs. He thanked me again, with a cracking voice, and he was off.

I don’t remember his name. I wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him again. A ghost of Christmas past, he reminded me the impact that one person can have on another.

That was four years ago when I “adopted” my first family from Bluffton Self Help. I wasn’t prepared for the impact the experience would have on me. And, as I type this column, I have just returned from Christmas shopping for my “Self Help family” this year.

I don’t have to tell you that this has been a rough year. People are hurting everywhere. And, a lot of folks are in need. But, before you send your holiday tidings off to an organization afar, I simply ask you to consider supporting those in our own community this year -- our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues.

Like year’s past, Bluffton Self Help will be collaborating with churches, communities, civic groups, clubs and families to provide toys to over 1,000 children during the upcoming holiday season. Imagine changing the lives of 1,000 children. That is a remarkable feat in our small town.

Self Help Executive Director, Jenny Haney, strongly believes that no child should be denied the joy of having gifts awaiting them on Christmas morning. I couldn’t agree more.

The specific need this year is gift items for boys and girls, ages eight to 12 years old. Haney’s suggestions include: arts and craft supplies, themed Lego’s, books, sports equipment, jewelry-making kits, and girl’s hair accessories.

So, while you are out and about doing your holiday shopping, think about slipping just one extra item in your shopping cart, and then deliver it to Bluffton Self Help (1264 May River Road) before next Monday, December 13th.

Do you remember the joy of waking up on Christmas morning? Pulling back the covers and rushing out of your room to see what was waiting under the tree?

Can you imagine if you had found nothing when you got there? Think about it.

Skip the Starbucks this morning and warm someone else’s heart.

“Remember, if Christmas isn't found in your heart, you won't find it under a tree." - Charlotte Carpenter

For more information:
Bluffton Self Help
1264 May River Road, Bluffton, SC

Crossing the Line appears every other Wednesday. Courtney Hampson can be reached at

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Christmas Story

From the December issue of CH/CB2

Pictured: Me and my sister, Sharon (left), with Fritz (in the loving head-lock) circa 1978.

When I think about memorable holiday moments, it is hard to ignore the Christmas that my cousin Jimmy was in jail. My sister, brother-in-law, then-husband, and I, marched in from the cold, shook off the chill, and proceeded to take off our coats to reveal matching t-shirts that read “FREE JIMMY.” We got a pretty good laugh, but had little time to pat ourselves on the back because we had to quickly change before Jimmy’s side of the family arrived.

Truthfully though, one flip through the ol’ family photo album and all of my Christmas memories come flooding back. In hindsight, I now realize how fortunate I was to be the oldest cousin on my Mom’s side. Because every one of my Christmas Eve outfits saw three wears post-me. You can basically figure out what year every picture is taken just by doing some quick math. If I wore the red plaid dress in 1979, it is likely that my sister Sharon wore it in 1982, my cousin Kim in 1983, and finally my cousin Ali in 1987. The male cousins suffered the same fate. The powder-blue-three-piece suit that Michael wore, then Dan, then Jimmy (pre-jail) was a little hard on the eyes by the time 1985 rolled around.

Then, of course, there was the Christmas of my first year of college. In August I left for the #1 party school in the nation. By Christmas break, I was home in NJ with all of my belongings, and registered for the local community college. Apparently, straight-A Courtney and #1 party school did not mix.

So, when I arrived at our Christmas Eve destination, and was greeted by my cousin’s husband who said, “Merry Christmas, even though you’re a college drop out,” the holiday spirit was pretty much sucked from the room. If only I had known that years later his son would be in jail (yup, same Jimmy), I might have spoken my mind. And, if my cousin hadn’t divorced him a few years later, he would know that I went on to graduate with a 3.7 GPA, and had an even higher GPA in grad school. How’s that for merry, buster?

If you look at the picture of me from that very Christmas morning circa 1991, you’ll see me in my West Virginia University sweatshirt. That is the 18th such picture in that series. Me, turning the corner, at the bottom of the stairs to see what was under the tree.

The rule in our house was that you couldn’t go downstairs until Mom and Dad were awake. And, once they were awake, you had to wait for them to set up the cameras (including video) so they could capture that moment when we first saw all of the presents piled under the tree. Every year we played along. No matter how old I got, I still savored that moments.

Before we would head downstairs, we would “do our stockings,” which hung on the cardboard mantle. Oh, you read correctly. We didn’t have a fireplace in our house, so my parents purchased a three-dimensional cardboard fireplace, that they would lug out of the attic each year and affix to the wall, so we could hang our stocking by the chimney with care. I still don’t know how that thing survived more than a dozen Christmases with stockings weighing in at a combined thirty pounds easily. It truly is a Christmas miracle.

Now, while we had to wait to get near the tree on Christmas morning, our dog Fritz had the run of the house. Which is why when he peed on baby Jesus, in the manger, I wrote a story about it (career foreshadowing). My Mom reminded me, as I was writing this story, of the night nearly 32 years ago when she and my father went to my back school night, sat down at my little desk, and had the opportunity to read the Christmas story I wrote. Apparently, Fritz’s manger-peeing-extravaganza was the focal point. Hey, drama sells.

As I got older, and started buying Christmas presents (that you couldn’t find at the elementary school bookmobile), I truly began to appreciate the spirit of the season. I love to give. (I’m not 100% onboard with it’s better to give than receive, but I tip the scales on giving, if I do say so myself.)

So, for my first grown-up Christmas, I was excited to buy gifts for the members of my extended family. I picked out a really luxurious pair of satin pajamas for my Grandmother. When she opened the box she appeared surprised. She slowly pulled the pants and the top from their wrapping, and looked at me and said, “This is beautiful Cour, but I don’t know where I would wear it.” I looked right back at her and said, “How about … to bed.” That is one moment I wish we had captured on film.

In a time when our photo albums are posted on Facebook, I miss the days when a picture wasn’t taken from a phone, when you only saved the good ones, when you wrote the event and date on the back, and cherished the picture until the edges were tattered.

Today, as I flip through our old family photos albums, I realize that no matter what year the picture was taken, the story and the characters are the same. I know that … In the dining room there is a green Jell-O mold with maraschino cherries courtesy of Aunt Madeleine. One of the men of the family is in a bedroom somewhere struggling into the decades old Santa suit. The older cousins might be playing drinking games. And, everyone else is gathered around the tree, singing carols awaiting Santa’s arrival.

Christmas is a season of tradition. Quirks and all, every family has a story -- of family traditions that you should never let go.