Now that the holidays are over, I have just returned to the shelf my copy of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” the slender memoir, by the late poet Dylan Thomas, of his early yuletides in the Welsh coastal community of Swansea.
As Thomas recalls the holidays of his circa 1920s childhood, the great bringer of presents in his story isn’t Santa but the mailman, toughing it through the Welsh winter cold.
Thomas writes of postmen with “sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses … They were just ordinary postmen, fond of walking and dogs and Christmas and the snow. They knocked on doors with blue knuckles … And then they stood on the white Welcome mat in the little drifted porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their breath, and jogged from foot to foot like small boys wanting to go out.”
Thomas is being ironic, of course, when he describes the postmen as “just ordinary.” What he wants you to know, quite clearly, is that the postal workers of his town were anything but commonplace. They were the men (this was long ago, so postal workers were invariably male) who opened their bags and brought tidings sad and joyful, or bills, or, each December, nice boxes to place beneath the tree.
All that talk of the daily mail in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” also seems to inform the story’s period charm. That’s because celebrations of the postal service, as another year begins in our ever-advancing digital age, are understoood to be more than a little old-fashioned. At a time when people can pay bills online, or click on their emails or text their loved ones with the touch of a button, who needs to wait on a postal worker to walk up your driveway?
But as the just-completed holiday season reminded us, we need traditonal couriers more than we might think. If you’re going to send a gift beyond your doorstep, or have any hopes of getting one from loved ones far away, then there’s still a demand, even in the era of the Internet, for someone to deliver it from Point A to Point B.
Our family noticed this last month, in early evenings before Christmas, when the den would suddenly brighten as we were watching TV.
The extra light came from the headlamps of the occasional mail truck looping up our drive — some postal worker, perhaps laboring long past the usual shift, to make sure a package arrived in time for the holiday.
Maybe the dawn of 3-D printers heralds a time when we can flip a switch and have every material we desire answered without getting it from someplace else.
In the meantime, though, remember the people who bring envelopes and packages to your door.
Dylan Thomas was right to laud them, and not a man in a red suit, as the real bringers of miracles.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.