Christmas Letters–Yea or Nay?

From Barb, in Massachusetts where it is so warm it’s hard to believe it’s almost Christmas

So gang, holiday letters, how do we feel about them?

I have a friend who always starts his, “Well here it is, the bane of our existence, ‘The Christmas Letter’ wherein we tell our friends about our fabulous lives, great vacations, what our overachieving children are doing and how our lives are so much better than theirs…”

This is followed by a humorous account of his year that never fails to give me a smile.

This year's Christmas letter
This year’s Christmas letter

I started sending my Christmas letter in 1995. I had recently left a place where I’d worked for twelve years. Though I was more than done with the job, I missed the people, and in those pre-internet, pre-social media days, it seemed like a good way to keep in touch. I also sent the letters to my husband’s large family and other friends we didn’t see from one end of the year to the next.

I had to make some refinements to my distribution system over time. When she was alive, it drove my mother crazy that her sister in Chicago got the letter and she did not. My explanation, “You already know everything in it,” did not suffice, so immediate family, including my parents, brother, and later, when they were grown, my kids were added to the list. Some years, when we would see my husband’s aunts and uncles through the year, I would skip sending them “the letter.” That didn’t work, either. “No Christmas letter this year?” they would ask. So they got themselves added permanently.

The letter, of course, goes with the whole card ritual. I always start looking for my cards in October and pick them with care, and they carry a theme for the year. So the year I signed my Maine Clambake contract, I chose Crane’s dancing lobsters. The next year, when the book came out, it was a gorgeous illustration of antique books from the Museum of Fine Arts. Last year, there was an Eiffel Tower on the card, commemorating our two and a half weeks in Paris during the summer.

I admit that I am a seasons person. I always change up the decor in our house for the time of the year. When I worked, I loved the rhythm the business brought, the January sales meeting, the July user conference, the fall industry conference, and then budgeting, planning, board approval, close-out the year, begin again. That, added to our family rhythms, governed by the kids’ school schedule, made the world feel a little safer and more predictable, a good counter-balance to the frequent unknowns of working in a startup and raising teenagers.

The scene of the crime...
The scene of the crime…

Card-writing became a part of my Christmas ritual, fit around work and other obligations, along with cookie-baking, decorating, gift buying and wrapping, throwing and attending holiday celebrations. For years, I went to my company’s holiday party in Vancouver and wrote the Christmas letter on the Saturday plane ride home. It was the emotional transition point from closing out the year at work to focusing on family traditions.

I love the letters, which document our family life for twenty years. And I love my little ritual that I carry on. But that’s all about me. I often wonder, in this age of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, what I am doing. Who, at the far corners of my existence, doesn’t know what my family and I are up to (or couldn’t find out, if they were really curious). I’m even documenting my life via this blog.

I carry on, because I still love to get them from others, but every year it becomes a bit more of a decision.

So how do you feel, dear readers. Holiday letters, yea or nay?

15 Thoughts

  1. One more thing I just learned about you, Barb! I love getting Christmas letters but have never sent one. My father used to write the Maxwell Express, though, and sent it every year to family and friends near and far, and my brother has continued the tradition. I’m lucky if I get three or four Christmas cards sent. (Note to self – do that this afternoon.)

  2. I love the Christmas letters from other people, though I’ve never written one myself. I do send cards–a lot of them–each with a short hand-written note, and I’m congratulating myself because I mailed them all yesterday! A full week to 10 days earlier than I usually have them done (do the math, LOL!) The last couple of years I’ve considered doing a letter, but it felt a bit too much like advertising (Hmmmmm, she never did one before, but now all of a sudden when she has books for sale she’s sending out a letter? *rolls eyes*). Though if you’ve been doing a letter all along, like Barb has, you’re grandfathered in and get to talk about your books 🙂 I say as long as you still enjoy writing the letters, keep writing them! If you don’t, then let the tradition go and fill the time you had previously spent on this activity doing something else that brings you joy.

  3. I usually write an annual Christmas letters but try to share funny things that happened to us during the year instead of accomplishments (although last year I did talk about getting published). There was the year of Biblical disasters (floods, pestilence, etc. most of which Bob was gone for), the year Bob was “saved” by lifeguards twice when we lived in LA, and last year I wrote in Bob’s voice with him refuting past Christmas letter stories. I have a feeling the letter this year is going to be very, very late. Oh, and I usually buy my cards right after Christmas when they are on sale.

  4. So, many people don’t write them, but they do enjoy getting them…is what I’m hearing. That’s encouraging. Mine are all in a sack for me to take to the post office when I go to physical therapy today.

  5. They have become a bit of a joke, haven’t they? Yes, I do one, but I try to keep the “me, me, me!” to a minimum. When there are people you don’t see from one year to the next, but who you’ve known forever, it’s nice to know what they’re doing. And their children. And their grandchildren. And I do add a personal note when I said them (paper, not an e-version).

  6. The first year after college, I sent out letters and a letter. Since then? Nothing. And after a decade of thinking I’d get cards out, I’ve given up on that as well. Too many other things clamor for my time like decorating, buying presents, wrapping presents in addition to reading and reviewing. And since I always travel to see family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I have a few fewer days to do everything, too.

    No really, I don’t feel guilty about it. I don’t!

  7. I only receive a Christmas letter from one family (besides the witty letter from Sherry) and have never sent one myself. I enjoy the one I receive because it keeps a connection that would likely be lost if the senders stopped sending. I always send them a newsy, handwritten Christmas card to uphold my end of the relationship.

  8. Great post, I really enjoyed it. Christmas letters are always fun ways to catch up.

  9. Christmas letters –yay! I love getting them and learning stuff, like the flower girl at our wedding now has three kids! (We are old).
    We don’t do letters, but making our own Christmas cards is an annual project. That’s “make” as with Photoshop, not construction paper — mostly of hubs and me looking ridiculous!

  10. Barb, love this! I usually only get letters from Sherry! I’ve never done a Christmas letter. I like the idea of it, but I can barely handle cards.

  11. I love Christmas letters! They’re a nice way to stay in touch with friends who live too far away to spend time with. (Plus they keep family off my back and out of my ear with questions like “Why don’t you call more? I want to know what’s going on in your life.”)

  12. Glad I’m not alone in not writing a Christmas letter! I get two or three every year from far away friends and always enjoy them. I do write a lot of cards though, and enclose photos to some special folks. Mailed them all yesterday- – -along with four packages to distant kids. They say yesterday was the Post Office’s busiest day of then year. I believe it!

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