It’s time to make that difficult decision again this year: Do I write a Christmas letter or not?
I don’t write one every year. It depends on what has gone on in our lives and who doesn’t already know (and do they need to know). Christmases past, when we sent a lot more cards, I often enclosed at least a short synopsis of our year, telling the news of our kids, what we’d done during the year and the assurance that all was well in our household.
But this year everyone who needs to know has long since been informed of things of any consequence. Friends who are on the periphery know also because news travels a lot faster these days via social media — whether you yourself told them or not. It sorta takes the fun out of composing a Christmas letter when you’re sure those few you’d send it to probably already know all you have to report.
Letter writing is an art, and used to be treated as such. Proper form was taught in school, as early as third grade with salutations (big word for a third-grader) and closings emphasized, along with the correct heading and date format. I doubt many kids today have ever received a letter through the mail, and certainly have never written one … after all, you have to use more than 160 characters, even to wish someone Merry Christmas, if you’re serious about it.
Many pieces of great literature consist of “Letters From (or To)…” and mark a time and place in history, sometimes the only eye-witness account not colored by an historian’s unique point of view from a few years distant. In the past, letters were to be cherished. How often have we heard about someone opening an old trunk and finding a cache of letters from a family member who was far away from home? I remember how thrilled, (and humbled) I was when clearing my mother-in-law’s things I found the letters I had written to her from our first years in Alaska. As I reread them, I relived those moments, although they were simply a ‘day I the life of’ type letters. They obviously meant something to her, and in turn to me, several years later.
Of course, the kids remarked “I didn’t do that” when I read excerpts to them but they were excited to have that piece of the past their Grandmother saved.
My mom had a pen-pal in The Netherlands when she was in high school that carried on afterward. Probably there was a hiatus during the war, but sometime when I was in elementary school they picked up the correspondence again, and we would be regaled with letters from that far distant place. They’d arrive in a flimsy blue paper, folded to encompass both the letter and the envelope. The news “A letter from the Dutchman” always brought everything to a halt as mom opened and read the letters to us. He told about life in Holland, and it was not easy in the 1940s, and once in a while he would touch on how it had been during the German occupation. I was way too young to understand the implications of those letters, but listened intently anyway.
Sometime in the late 40s, or maybe 1950 or so, he and his family emigrated to the U.S. and asked my parents to sponsor them, which they did. The Dutch family went to Texas, and eventually, as all our lives changed and moved on, we didn’t hear anymore from them. I remember his name was Bert Bakker, and his wife was Fre.
I had a few pen-pals in the past. None as long lasting or as interesting as Mom’s Dutchman, but at the time each filled the need to communicate beyond my little circle. Today that desire is satisfied in youngsters by social media, I guess, but I’d dare say it is not as fulfilling as receiving a letter from far away, addressed only to you and there to be read and contemplated over and over again. I’ve wondered at times if the Bakkers are still in Texas and I remember the letters from the Dutchman on flimsy blue paper connecting me with a part of history.
This stroll down memory lane has been prompted by the decision of whether to write THE CHRISTMAS LETTER or not. It’s late in the season and I should have already sent what cards I’m going to send, but I could send a New Year’s card and letter to the few friends I still send season’s greetings to. I’ve already received several Merry Christmas e-mails, and returned the sentiment, and Facebook is rife with Holiday memes for every end of the year celebration known, from Christmas, to Hannakah, to Wiccan and probably a few more I missed.
So whatever your holiday, here’s Season’s Greetings to you from the Pedestrian Lane. Count this as your Christmas letter! Merry Christmas!
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.