Among traditions hurtling into oblivion – if not already there – like sit-down dinner parties and landline telephones is the once-reliable and occasionally awful Christmas letter. I’ve been writing one since 1973. That year, the “n” key on the typewriter broke midway through the writing, forcing me to hand-letter the offending consonant the rest of the way. It was probably a sign that I should have heeded. Instead, I barreled on year upon year, imagining that friends and relatives really cared for an update on our family’s doings. Some of them became enablers, writing on their own cards “Sure looking forward to your Christmas letter” just as I was thinking “Maybe this is the year to abandon this practice.” So I’d throw something together, include copies with the cards and get them into the mail, often late (“Hey, it’s the holiday season, close enough.”).
Last year’s letter began “Still boycotting Facebook…” which was a continuation on a theme from the previous year when I suggested that once a year was more than enough “self-absorbed bloviating” and the reason why I was not participating in the social media phenomenon. “If you were on Facebook I could send you pictures of my grandchildren (and my dog and my cat).” I tell them I know how to open e-mailed pictures. “But if you were on Facebook I could send you lots of pictures.” Ah yes, and perhaps that’s another reason to be a non-participant. “Edit, people,” I want to say as I go through cards and letters. “Pick the best picture of your grandchild – or dog or cat – or two if you can’t bear to choose.” That way, the pictures will be large enough for my aging eyes to discern the subjects, rather than a montage of teeny-tiny representations.
But I’m a grump, and for all I know my annual letter is received by groans: “Oh God, here’s that horrible thing again. When is she ever going to quit?”
I try to be reasonably concise, although those early letters did go on a bit. Perhaps I have learned a little something along the way, but maybe not. I frequently have the need to continue on the reverse side of the page. But that’s okay because it leaves me room to scrawl a personal note to the recipient if there’s time. Usually these things are done at the last minute with the postal service’s admonishing “last date to assure delivery” looming. Yes, I know. If I were doing it online, I could wait till Christmas Eve. When there’s nothing else to do.
I also try to be relatively cheerful, even though sometimes I have to convey sad news as in someone’s death or serious illness but I try to use a light hand, reminding myself that people will be reading the letter in the midst of what should be a happy time.
On the other hand, the older I get the less likely I am to refrain from a political jab or two. My rationalization is that people residing in their own particular bubbles should know what people in my particular bubble think. Besides, it’s fun to poke at bubbles. Even at Christmas.
Originating as my husband and I did from opposite sides of the country, there was always one set of grandparents or one branch of the family tree especially in need of an annual update. How many ballet classes is one daughter up to? Which musical instrument has the other switched to? Who’s in Brownies? The high school band? The Nutcracker?” Forty years of Christmas letters provide a running history of our little nuclear family. Mentioned are Ed’s and my activities and those of our children but also every dog and cat that passed through our household.
Leafing through the letters which I’d thought had been faithfully saved, I find gaps. I’m sure I never skipped sending Christmas cards. Were the letters lost in one of our five cross-country moves? What happened between 1975 and 1979? And where is 1981? Those were years when we were involved with making a big old wreck of a house somewhat habitable. Did we give up on letters then? In 1982 I switched to smaller paper, probably due to a particularly demanding new job, but then five years later was back to large sheets, an indication of what? A relaxed new lifestyle? Hardly. Most letters begin with a promise of brevity because there’s so little to report and then go on to fill a page and a half.
Now, however, I’ve given in and am adding my contribution to the cyberclutter. Along with everyone else on the planet, I have a blog (on patnieder.com). Look here next year. Happy Holidays!