For one pair of brothers-in-law, it isn't really Christmas until one sends the other "Ivan" -- the same greeting card they have exchanged every Yule season for 42 years.
The tradition began in 1948, when Irving Willis mailed the unsigned card to his wife's brother, Delbert Gibson. Although they lived in the same house in Washington, D.C., "I knew who it was that sent it right away," said Gibson, now 83. "It was his kind of humor.
"So I kept the card, and the next year, sent it back to him with a Russian Christmas greeting," said Gibson, a professional linguist who lives in Fort Lauderdale. "Because the guy on the cover is riding a Russian sled, I picked Russian, and we named the card Ivan. Then he sent it back to me the following year, and it soon became a tradition."
Every year since, the greeting has been written in a different language, except for two years they unwittingly wrote in dialects of two languages already used.
When Gibson received the card this year, he found the greeting "Krismasi Njema" -- "Merry Christmas" in Luo, an African language. "I live in a retirement home, and one of the men that works here is from Kenya," said Willis, 79, a retired Navy captain who lives in Washington.
Now, the men are beginning to run out of languages for their annual holiday greeting. The card also is running out of blank space for future greetings. "We would have to write on the front," said Gibson, "and I don't think we want to do that."