Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

The joy of receiving post from home at Christmas

Skype and email keep us in daily contact, but there’s nothing like receiving a letter, writes Ceire Sadlier

Mon, Dec 23, 2013, 00:00


Ceire Sadlier

The tall stripy egg cup rolled off the table and smashed on the floor. As I put it in the bin I thought about where it came from. It came in a Christmas parcel a friend sent us in Zambia five years ago – our first Christmas away. We wouldn’t have exchanged Christmas presents if we were at home, so I was surprised and overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness.

I have a straw trunk, a miniature suitcase, wedged full of letters and cards that we have received since we left Ireland. Skype, email, Facebook, Whatsapp, Viber, Twitter – they have all kept us in daily contact with everyone. But there is nothing like a bit of post. The Irish stamp, checking what date it was marked by An Post and calculating how long it took to get here.

Seeing someone’s handwriting beats seeing their face on a screen by a mile. Seeing my name in big round letters, small sharp letters, illegible letters. I get a thrill when a text message beeps or an email comes in. But thinking of that person sitting down and getting a pen and paper – or picking you out a card, that takes effort. People put time into that. You know that they really thought of you. I think of them folding the paper, getting annoyed when the edges caught on the envelope, of them suddenly realising that the local post office has closed down and trying to think of where the nearest one is now. I imagine them tapping the envelope into the mouth of the green post box and panicking – wait, is that the international one?

It’s the biggest treat – the read. My friend sent me a 5 page letter (she has huge handwriting) and on the front it read, “Serving suggestion: Read with tea”. And that is just what I did – went and made a cup of tea, sat down in a comfy seat and read her lovely big swirly writing. I had spoken to her twice between her sending it and me getting it. But everything is better in a letter. It’s nice at any time of the year, but it’s extra nice at Christmas. There might be bonus post – a big padded envelope – a book, a newspaper, a bar of chocolate, a mix CD, a packet of Taytos smashed to dust. It’s nice that people realise that, no matter how paradisiacal your location seems, it’s inevitable to be a bit homesick at Christmas. The parcel makes it worse, and it makes it better.

When we were packing up to move from Zambia to Tanzania, we had to carefully choose what we were going to bring. I said to my husband, what about this trunk of letters, am I going to cart this around the world forever? Yes is the answer. I won’t regret it, the way I regret bringing five chopping boards. I can’t see myself sitting down to flick through emails and text messages in twenty years – but I’ll be able to open that trunk and read through these letters and Christmas cards, Birthday cards, congratulations cards, I miss you cards, thank you cards, new home cards, condolence cards, and even the odd Easter or St. Patrick’s Day card. Letters about break ups, letters about holidays, letters about horrible days at work. Letters that remind me that we are still far away and letters that remind me that we are still close.

Ceire has written previous articles for the blog about being tired of wanting to be in IrelandChristmas in Lusaka, leaving good friends behind, being ignorant of the property tax as an emigrant, making a life in a place that isn’t ‘home‘, the very Irish way of being kind, and flying home for her father-in-law’s funeral. Her articles also appear on her own blog,