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.

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!”

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.

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.

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

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