'Tis the season to send out and receive those beautiful Christmas cards, usually accompanied by a typewritten letter. These ever-popular Christmas letters have received a "bad rap" in the last few years. To quote a reader's letter to Ann Landers, "Why do normally intelligent folks take leave of their senses at Christmas time and send out those interminable chronicles of the year's activities to everyone whose name they can spell?"
I, for one, like receiving these letters. Most of the letters that come my way are from friends and relatives that I only hear from once a year. So I want to hear about Tyler's interest in sixth-grade sports, and how he sometimes likes to sing. And I enjoy reading about trips taken over the past 12 months and, yes, I am interested to know that Bob is thinking about retiring. I know I will miss the annual letter from Aunt Clara who passed away last month at age 93.
Christmas letters serve as a form of family history, as it forces one to write down the happenings of the year. It is a ready reference when the memory fails as to "which year did we go to the Black Hills?" A century ago, handwritten letters were sent out during the holidays and treasured for the news they brought. They were often saved to be read and reread many times during the long winter months.
Christmas letters attest to the ingenuity of their creators. Some are newsworthy, some do a little bragging, some are funny, some are outrageous, and yes, some are downright boring.
For example, again from Ann Landers: "What a great year! Jim was named vice president of the bank. We celebrated by going to Europe and buying a Mercedes. After completing my term as Junior League vice president, I swore I'd take life easy, but I am more involved than ever. I accepted the vice presidency of the Garden Club and raised $680 at a bake sale for the Eastern Star. All this with my leg in a cast. I fell off the ladder while hanging curtains at our church. Jim Jr. has been accepted at both Harvard and Yale. Linda was elected vice president of her class and was homecoming queen."
Or, "We've had a lousy year. Bill was passed over for promotion again so he quit his job. He hasn't found anything, but he reads the want ads every day. In the meantime he is drinking like a fish. Having him under my feet all the time hasn't helped my disposition much either.
Bill Jr. was defeated for homeroom monitor. He flunked French and will have to go to summer school in order to graduate. College is out. Sixteen-year-old Bob hasn't had a hair-cut since July. Mary is protesting something and shaved her head last week. My mother-in-law's June visit lasted until August and I am back in therapyI hope next year is better. It couldn't be much worse."
Cousin Corrine always sends an entertaining letter such as last year's. "Looking back, which is getting harder all the time, I feel I took an off-ramp and never got back on the main highway. I notice I don't lose things now that I buy three of everything. This going downhill is uphill work. Maintaining the old bod gets increasingly more difficult. Character lines have gone to seersucker, the hairdo looks like road-kill, the birthday suit needs ironing and worst of all, the head makes promises the body can't possibly keep. I go down to the Senior Center on Mondays to watch the graying of America. All those white heads look like a field of dandelions in full bloom. For Bill's 80th, we thought seriously of having the fire department stand by. But when we found the candles would cost more than the cake, we canceled that! I haven't looked 60 since I was 40."
Some are philosophical. One 1998 letter went like this: "For those of you who do not live in the great state of Minnesota, you may, or may not have heard that this fall we elected a former professional wrestler as our governor. We are still rubbing our eyes in the glare of the national spotlight. But then we are also the state that produced Hubert Humphrey, Sinclair Lewis, Bob Dylan and the biggest ball of twine. And to quote Garrison Keillor, another famous Minnesotan, "We are a state of highly-repressed Scandinavians, and sometimes we surprise even ourselves."
This year is no different each day I receive wonderful letters to read and savor. So keep those letters coming but please spare me the e-mail greeting.