One of my favorite things about Christmas is sending and receiving Christmas cards. I have always been the correspondent for the family and I guess that goes back to my love of the written word and the fact that I love to read and write.
And yes, I do the dreaded “Christmas letter,” but with a different twist. The Christmas letter, I believe, became popular once copy machines became such a common part of life. When I was growing up, we might have ever so occasionally received a mass produced letter. My mother, a proper and genteel southern lady, scoffed at them as impersonal and, if they contained too much unsolicited information, crude (she liked that word).
They seemed to really take root around the time I got married (in 1984). More and more, we would receive the letters and more and more, unfortunately, they would give WAY too much information and WAY too much “good news” -- all about new houses, new six-figure jobs, exotic vacations and children that are gifted beyond belief.
On the other hand, I love to hear from my friends at Christmas. And really, I love the Christmas letters if they are done in such a way that does not make me feel like a big loser because I’m not as successful as the letter’s author and my children are not National Merit Finalists. Give me a little summary of what you’ve done this year, how your family is doing, etc. and that’s all I really need to know. I don’t need painful details.
I started writing a Christmas letter in 1995 but it was the anti-Christmas letter, explaining how Younger Son refused to be toilet trained, my older two wouldn’t do their homework, Wife was on a cooking strike and I was mad as hell at a Christmas tree that refused to stand.
The response was quite encouraging and I’ve been doing it ever since. I usually try to write something funny, kind of like I would write on this blog. I wrote one in 2002 about my annual battle with the Christmas tree that some of my friends still pull out and read every year. A couple of times my dog Ralph has penned the letter.
But every once in a while I’ll throw a curve and write something a little more poignant or serious. I wrote essays about Older Son and Daughter when it was the Christmas before their respective high school graduations, and this year it will be about Younger Son since he’ll graduate this spring.
I’ll include some personal information but I try to follow the Golden Rule and only say what I would like to read myself.
So, with great humility, I offer you my guidelines for Christmas cards and Christmas letters. Hear me well: these are MY rules that I impose on MYSELF. I'm not saying I expect anyone else to abide by these (although I do, of course, endorse your own adaptation) :
1. Don’t send Christmas cards in town. Wife disagrees with me on this one and I’ve graciously offered to turn over the sending of Christmas cards to her, an offer she has so far not accepted, so the rule remains in place. (It just galls her to see her friends’ refrigerators plastered with holiday photos, with our family conspicuously absent). My thinking is this: my Christmas greeting is intended for those friends and family members who live away from me and who I don’t get to see as much as I would like. If you live in the same town as me, I'll wish you a very Merry Christmas in person. If you think you'll miss me, invite me over for Christmas cheer. And if you want to send me a Christmas card, it will be graciously received and appreciated. Just please don’t feel slighted if you don’t get one from me. I have to draw the line somewhere.
1(a). If you choose to send cards in town DO NOT, under any circumstances, include the Christmas letter. I mean, really. If I am sitting next to you in church or on the bleachers or wherever, I at least have the opportunity to know what's going on with you. I don't need to read it in a letter. This is the height of bad taste.
2. For the Christmas letter, less is definitely more. Include very little, if any, information about vacations, job promotions and/or awards and honors achieved by offspring. This can be done in summary fashion. GOOD: "Mary is now 15, a student at such-and-such and will be released from detention in a month." Short and sweet. Don't poor-mouth it either. BAD: "The third time is definitely the charm and we fully expect Johnny to pass second grade this year."
3. At least part of the Christmas card and/or letter should be in your handwriting, if only the address on the envelope. We have to cut corners, I know that. Time is precious. But I know for a fact (because he has told me) that the yearly card I receive from one of my best friends and his family is formatted on a computer by his wife's secretary, from the photo card to the mailing label. I just don't get a warm fuzzy from that. Hallmark has a commercial where the mom goes online, creates the card and downloads her address list and it's all done instantly. Hallmark addresses and mails it. I just think that's wrong. If you have time, a personal note is lovely (but I understand not usually feasible). Signing the card is good. But if you can do neither of those, at least manually address the envelope.
4. It's OK to send a photo or photos but use good judgment. The photo card is standard practice now and I enjoy receiving them. Like the Christmas letter, these should be tasteful and understated, and one should think long and hard before sending a photo of your family posed in front of the Eiffel Tower or The Great Wall. Likewise, be careful about those photos where you're all in your pajamas. Those are cute when your children are little, not so much when they're teenagers and never when they've all left home and it's just the two of you. Also, a piece of paper enclosed with photos copied onto said paper, which includes a legend, is pushing it.
5. There are times to cut. If your card list exceeds 100, it's probably time to review. Do you really stay in touch with all those people? Do you think they want to hear from you? Would you remember their names if you didn't send them a Christmas card? Would they remember yours? Ask yourself these tough question.
6. An e-Christmas card: NO. No additional comment needed.
7. Be careful about enclosures or adding a smell to your card/letter. The perfumed card, even with a pleasant Christmasy scent, is probably a little much and a lot of people are allergic. And the festive confetti that falls out when you open the card? Remember someone has to clean that up.
8. Try your best to send cards at least by New Year's Eve. I know it's tough with all that's going on in December but it is supposed to be a seasonal card and sending it in January or February is fine, of course, but kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think? Not that I won't be glad to hear from you anytime at all, of course.
Now please don't take offense if you engage in any of these practices. As I said, these are my guidelines. A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. Enjoy those cards and letters.