I need to say something in defense of Christmas Letters. And it’s not just because I write one (actually ours is a New Year’s Letter because I just can’t get it together before Christmas, so I’ve stopped trying). Lately I’ve heard a lot of Christmas Letter bashing – it’s too impersonal, they’re boring, too long, no one really cares about all that stuff (ahem…and I really want to know what you had for breakfast this morning via Facebook?), or the top complaint – it’s just bragging. OK, if you can’t brag to your friends and family about how great your kids are – who can you brag to? I absolutely want to hear you brag about your kids – everyone should. Every kid needs to have people who brag about them! Is it worth telling us that your kid won third place in the 2nd heat of the Pinewood derby? Absolutely – I want to know! Should you tell us that your daughter was the little lamb in the school Christmas pageant? I can’t get enough of this and there better be pictures! And what about the pet’s latest antics? Yes, yes, yes, this is good stuff. It gives me a window in to your life.
People who criticize Christmas Letters just don’t have enough to complain about. Or they are jealous that someone else is taking the time to write at length about their own family. Face it; no one has time to write personal notes in all their Christmas cards. A Christmas Letter fills me in on what you’ve been up to all year. For too many of my long lost friends, this is all the information I will get until the next Christmas Letter, so I’ll take it and be grateful.
Some people are super creative and do things like Top Ten lists or poems about their year. Those are fun and quick to read. Some people send collages of pictures with comments - that’s always good for a laugh. I have one friend who each year sends a collection of the funniest (or most poignant) things her children have said that year. Some people just use bullet points, but that works too. It gets the information across.
The hard part for a lot of us is figuring out what person to write in. Third person? That seems like you have a narrator for your life. This works for some people, but makes the letter read a little like a news report. First person makes it seem awkward to fully brag about your own accomplishments. And then there are the people who switch first persons throughout the letter which turns it in to a bit of a mystery, which can be fun. Who’s writing now?
You can learn so much from the letters beyond just the mere facts presented. The style can be self-effacing and make you laugh or it can be stiff and formal and make you realize the writer is a little embarrassed to be telling you all this but really wants you to know. Sometimes information about particular family members is conspicuously left out and then you have to wonder….it someone having a fight? Doing drugs? Living on a friends’ couch? I’m telling you, I get a lot more out of these letters than the average bear.
If you need a selfish reason to write, here’s one. Do it for posterity. I’ve got annual letters that go back 20 years now. That’s a big chunk of my life history. Hopefully someday my descendents will want to read it. If only to gawk at how we lived, “back in the days when we couldn’t tele-transport and water was abundant and free”. There’s important history in these letters. Something lasting. If I ever sat down to write, “my story” there’s no way I would remember all the details of our life over the years. These letters are a clue. They celebrate the things that were important to us, the events that moved us, and the accomplishments we were proud of in any given year. I wish that my grandmothers had written letters for me to read. I would have loved to have known what their lives were really like. So if you can’t write for the rest of us, write for your future relatives. Just a thought.
I love Christmas Letters. I open the cards and make a stack of the letters to savor over a cup of tea when the house is quiet. After I read them I think about the people who sent them and the people they wrote about. Sometimes there is a picture to study which is a huge bonus. Reading these letters is a little sacred to me. For a few minutes my heart is connected to someone whose life has touched mine somewhere in this journey. There are lots of friends I haven’t seen in years but who made an imprint on my life and heart and so I want to hold on to the fragile thread that connects us. These letters help me do that – much more so than a beautiful card with professional greetings and a quick signature. I’m not complaining – if that’s all you have time for than I’m just grateful I’m still on your list. The card lets me know I made the cut.
But for those of you who wonder whether you should write the Christmas Letter and are afraid of being boring or sounding silly or being one of those people – I’m hear to tell you to write! Write the letter from your heart and brag all you want – there’s nothing wrong with bragging about people you love to people you love. Nothing. And there’s nothing wrong with photocopying your message to 100 of your closest friends and relatives. It’s a celebration that you have so many people in your life who matter that you have to resort to mass mailings. This is a good problem! So please write that letter. The people who love you want to know what’s happening in your life. They really do. Bring on the Christmas letters!