Yesterday I received a Christmas card with no return address and no signature. There is no personal greeting on the card – other than the pre-printed holiday greeting there is no writing on it. There is nothing on the envelope to indicate where it came from, except that it was postmarked in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My name and address are computer-generated on an address label, no doubt from some large database.
What database, though, I have no idea. I sometimes get Christmas cards from organizations I have donated to, but they always identify themselves, usually both on the envelope and the card itself – trying to appear personal even if it is all done by a computer. I have heard of anonymous Christmas gifts, but this was just a card.
The card itself was made by Heifer International, as I can tell from the back of the card. I was at one point a community representative for Heifer, so I wondered if maybe it came from them. But they’re headquartered in Arkansas, not Wisconsin.
The only time I can think of that I’ve ever been to Wisconsin was when I was flying from Moline, IL to Traverse City, MI, and I changed planes at the Milwaukee airport – which is a very nice airport, but it could have been anywhere else and I wouldn’t have known the difference. My husband thinks we know – or have at least met – someone from Wisconsin, but he can’t remember who, and I can’t imagine that whoever it is would send an unsigned card with a computer-generated address label.
If I chose to, I could reuse the card, since it is essentially in brand-new condition. But there is something about receiving a completely anonymous Christmas card that seems to have some message hidden in it, even if I’m not sure quite what it is. After all, for everyone except his family and some shepherds, Jesus came into the world pretty anonymously some two thousand years ago.
With most cards I receive, I barely take a look at the card itself, as I’m more interested in the personal greeting inside. This one I examined more closely, because there’s nothing else to look at. It shows a profile of a person, against a starry sky, with one bright star shining down near the horizon. At first glance I assumed it was a shepherd with some sheep, or possibly a wise man with a camel.
But on closer inspection, I see that the animals are varied, including a goat, a cow, a goose (or is it a duck?), a hen, and I think a sheep and a pig – all animals that Heifer gives, through the donations of people like you and me. And the stars in the upper right form a most interesting constellation – I’m pretty sure it’s the shape of a heifer. Perhaps the card is after all from Heifer, a reminder of the gift given to all of us at the first Christmas, and how we can pass along the gift of love we have received. Though I can’t imagine why the envelope wouldn’t identify the organization.
Gifts given through Heifer are essentially anonymous to the people who receive them. Even if some poor villager somewhere knew that the ewe he was caring for had been given in part by someone somewhere named Pauline, my name wouldn’t mean a thing to him. And that is the best way to give gifts, according to Jesus, with no expectation of being repaid.
So thank you, whoever you are in Wisconsin, for making me stop and think a bit more about gifts and giving. And a Merry Christmas to you!