Thank you, San Antonio, for all your lovely Christmas cards. Apologies for not sending one to you this year. It’s not that you are no longer on my list. The list itself is gone. Truth is, it’s been years since I’ve sent old-fashioned Christmas cards through the mail.

It’s a tradition I wish our family had not abandoned, as we’ve come to lead our lives at a speed that we are now working in earnest to slow to a more purposeful pace. I am grateful to those of you who have kept me and my family on your list.

The email greetings and mechanically signed cards sent out by the hundreds or thousands fail to interest me. It’s the signed cards, some showing traditional scenes, others proudly showing generations of family members, that offer seasonal joy.

There is the annual card from a local philanthropist and leading business figure with its time-honored sailing motif and wishful words for a new year: “Fair winds, safe harbors.”

There’s the tech leader’s family card: smiling teenage children (“one who voted!”) maturing to college age, parents marking eventful 50th birthdays and a 20th wedding anniversary, and best of all, the wife and mother announcing she is seven years cancer-free. That is the very definition of tidings of comfort and joy.

A portrait of a beautiful pan dulce Christmas tree arrives from Al Rendon, a San Antonio photographer and with his wife Liz, Southtown gallery owners. Liz, like my wife Monika, is a beekeeper. They all know one another, and several times a year they gather in their white suits to gather honey from the hives.

A Monte Vista couple poses proudly with their new pup. Inside are a few rhyming verses of hope for 2021:

Country unites in spite of the jeer,

Time for this year to go to the rear.

Scott Ball, the San Antonio Report’s creative photo editor, poses as an impish elf on the fireplace mantel of his family’s new home while Shannon, his wife, and Ira June, their darling 3-year-old daughter, point with bemusement. McSteamy, the family’s rescue cat, looks on placidly. She’s seen a lot.

A thoughtful card and letter arrives from a neighbor, a retired law professor widowed shortly after she and her husband first attended our family’s annual Christmas season open house several years ago. Alas, the party has fallen victim to the pandemic, but there is always next year and the next year.

A few of the many Christmas cards Robert Rivard received this year are pictured here. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Atlantic, a publication with its finger on the pulse of millennials, finds the Christmas card tradition alive and well with new generations of believers, a tactile refuge, perhaps, from the social media fatigue especially burdensome this year of pandemic. Christmas cards are a counterpoint to what one person heard in a Christmas Eve interview on National Public Radio referred to as the season’s “loneliness virus.”

I sit in my office this Christmas Eve day, a place hollowed out by the coronavirus, thumbing through the Christmas cards that have arrived daily in the office mail. For a few stolen moments they are a welcome retreat from a bottomless in-box of email.

The truth is my own nuclear family has abandoned some Christmas traditions. The inescapable materialism of the season was a turn-off for Monika and me and our two grown children, Nicolas and Alex. That somehow led to abandonment of decorating a Christmas tree, despite my solitary protests. Heirloom stockings are no longer hung from the fireplace mantel, and Monika tired of her laborious baking of Christmas cookies for friends. We should have helped her all those years.

It’s been a while since the family attended an ecumenical Midnight Mass at San Fernando Cathedral. And now, when I tune in for the BBC’s annual A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols sung by the King’s College Choir at Cambridge, I listen alone, sometimes while driving through the city in my truck. No one is particularly interested in my discovery of a previously overlooked recording of Robert Frost’s wintry classic, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, put to choral song.

Tradition and ritual, and certainly music, connect us to ancient times and the people who came before us and are present today in our DNA, and the more immediate generations who preceded us, immigrants at one moment or another seeking new beginnings in a new world. We can learn from their resilience, and remind ourselves as we encounter today’s immigrants that our families once walked in their shoes, too.

The Maeckle-Rivard family does hold fast to important traditions. Hilde Maeckle, the 88-year-old matriarch of the family and Monika’s mother, joined us for a pre-Christmas feast of polenta and wild hog and grilled veggies prepared by Alex. We are thankful she continues to live independently and remains a big part of our daily lives. Monika meticulously cracked and cleaned pecans gathered on our property for her signature pecan tart with crème fraîche. We lost one mature pecan tree to disease this winter, yet saved the biggest one of all for at least another season.

As always, we drew names for an exchange of presents, gathered around a crackling fire as a cold front blew in and excited Brisket and Cacteye, the family dogs.

I resolve to send a few Christmas cards next year. Not many, just enough to reach close friends and individuals in this city who have fueled our dreams here at the San Antonio Report and given me opportunities I could only have dreamed of as a young man and aspiring journalist. I might even haul home a Christmas tree and decorate it myself. And then I’ll put on seasonal choral songs and, having survived a pandemic, count my blessings.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.