The Christmas card arrived in my mailbox today. There’s nothing that noteworthy about it: On the front, a guy wearing a Santa hat, red bow tie, and elf slippers with bells on them flings his arms wide and says, “Merry Christmas to a really wonderful, witty, charming, intelligent person!”

Inside, the message reads, “Save this card! You can send it to me next Christmas!”

The Hallmark card is 37 years old. When I bought it in 1982, it cost $0.75. Today, it would easily set me back $4 or more.

I sent the card, way back then, to Michael DeNardo, a young Temple University student whom I’d followed during his years at Edgewood Regional High in Winslow, when he wrote high school sports reports for The Journal, the newspaper I published. Mike was studying to become a radio broadcaster, which he did most successfully. His voice still can be heard on KYW news radio.

Photo of the staff of the Journal newspapers when Mike DeNardo, far left, was a reporter and Jeanne Smith, third from right, was the owner/publisher of the New Jersey local papers.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Photo of the staff of the Journal newspapers when Mike DeNardo, far left, was a reporter and Jeanne Smith, third from right, was the owner/publisher of the New Jersey local papers.

In 1983, much to my surprise, the card reappeared, mailed back to me by Mike as a joke. I saved it and sent it back to him in 1984. And we’ve been lobbing it to each other ever since. That’s 37 years of devoted recycling.

Each year, as it traversed from wherever I was living to wherever Mike was, we wrote a one-line comment by way of greeting. Gradually, we ran out of space inside the card (even writing sideways and upside down for a few years). We graduated to the back in 2004, which we filled by 2012.

So in 2013, when it was Mike’s turn to send our annual greeting, he inserted a plain white piece of card stock and wrote, “This should carry us for a few more decades!”

This is the Christmas card, opened to see the inside greetings, that Jeanne Smith sent to KYW reporter Mike DeNardo about 35 years ago and they have been taking turns sending the card back and forth ever since. They even had to add an extra page to make room for their new holiday greetings.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
This is the Christmas card, opened to see the inside greetings, that Jeanne Smith sent to KYW reporter Mike DeNardo about 35 years ago and they have been taking turns sending the card back and forth ever since. They even had to add an extra page to make room for their new holiday greetings.

The last time I saw Mike in person was at my 60th birthday party, 18 years ago. He looked like the teenager I remembered, and his infectious laugh hadn’t faded. But whether we are able to meet or whether our only contact is the Christmas card, we know our friendship has given us a wonderful tradition.

When the inevitable Christmas sadness settles on my heart at the absence of so many people I've loved and lost, I can look at the card Mike sends and get a boost of joy.

KYW reporter Mike DeNardo, left, gets a very warm reception from Jeanne Smith, right, in front of her Pemeberton, NJ home on December 10, 2019, since its been over 15 years since they have seen each other face to face. About 35 years ago, Jeanne Smith sent her co-worker Mike DeNardo a Christmas card that was signed "next year you can mail this card back to me." So the following year, he did. So then she mailed it to him the next year, and then he sent it back to her the following year - and this has been going on for decades. They send the same card, taking turns mailing it. They have had to add pages to the card so they can write new greetings.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
KYW reporter Mike DeNardo, left, gets a very warm reception from Jeanne Smith, right, in front of her Pemeberton, NJ home on December 10, 2019, since its been over 15 years since they have seen each other face to face. About 35 years ago, Jeanne Smith sent her co-worker Mike DeNardo a Christmas card that was signed "next year you can mail this card back to me." So the following year, he did. So then she mailed it to him the next year, and then he sent it back to her the following year - and this has been going on for decades. They send the same card, taking turns mailing it. They have had to add pages to the card so they can write new greetings.

When Mike’s card arrived this year on Dec. 4, I once again read the message and telepathically sent my love to its sender. After the holidays, I’ll squirrel it away somewhere easy to remember (nothing worse than hiding something so well I forget where I put it!) until next year, when it’s my turn to ponder over a single line of greeting, jot it down, and send the card to Mike.

Who knew, way back in 1982, that my 75-cent purchase of a silly little card would launch a lovely ritual that would endure for so many years?

Little blessings mean so much. And every Christmas, Mike is always there to provide one of my favorites.

KYW reporter Mike DeNardo, left, gets a hug from Jeanne Smith, right, in front of her home in Pemberton, NJ, on December 10, 2019, since it has been about 15 years since they saw each other, but they have been sending the same Christmas card back and forth to each other for 35 years.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
KYW reporter Mike DeNardo, left, gets a hug from Jeanne Smith, right, in front of her home in Pemberton, NJ, on December 10, 2019, since it has been about 15 years since they saw each other, but they have been sending the same Christmas card back and forth to each other for 35 years.

Jeanne Smith, now retired, owned and published The Journal and Trend newspapers from 1973 to 1994.