Does writing Christmas letters and cards make me a “writer”?

I realize that some people look down their noses at Christmas form letters. I understand. I find both receiving and sending such missives rewarding, though, and here’s why.

My grandma was one of eleven children. My grandfather was one of ten. I grew up, after my folks divorced, spending a lot of time at my grandparents’ house, even living with them for a while. And that meant many family gatherings with scads of extended family. These were exceptionally happy times. I remember them as being filled with games and laughter and talking and mounds of all manner of food — with everyone bringing their own specialty to the communal table. Aunt D’vern’s malfattis were one of my favorites. Of course, everyone loved Grandma’s Swedish meatballs (who wouldn’t love those balls fried in butter?!) Someone always seemed to bake my great-grandma’s cookies, a simple sugar-type cookie with half a candied cherry on top. (I wonder how many points those are on Weight Watchers…?)

Grandma has been unable to host parties for a long while, now permanently unable, of course, but even before she died, she was not really mobile for years. I had moved away anyway and wouldn’t have been able to attend, so it wasn’t like living on the East Coast was keeping me from the family reunions. There just weren’t any. And nobody has stepped in the fill Grandma’s role in bringing the scattered family together.

Which is one reason I like to write an annual Christmas letter. It’s sort of my small way of keeping those connections alive. And there are so many people in my extended family that writing individual letters to everyone would take all year! So I compose a form letter each year (usually) and let people in on our latest news. No doubt some of the relatives wonder who I am, having no memory of me. I guess on the return address I should write “Norma’s granddaughter” or “Walt’s granddaughter.” My hope is that by sending them a letter each year, I’ll exist for them as a real person.

In any case, I keep sending the letters because on the rare occasion that I see a long-lost relative (like at a funeral), she inevitably says she enjoys my letters. Honestly, that’s enough for me. But also, it would really be enough for me that writing these letters is enjoyable. I like the annual chance to look back over our year. I like the conversations with my son and husband about what stands out for them this past year and what they want included in the letter. I like the challenge of trying to write something true, engaging, and succinct (much like my task in writing Grandma’s book!)

Last year we did not send out a holiday letter. In the past, I’ve often been too busy with finals and end of semester activities to get our letter out before Christmas, so I’ve extended my deadline to New Years, even Valentine’s Day. Okay, once Easter. I always try to get something out if possible. But last year I just couldn’t do it. “Hey, everybody, happy holidays, my dog and my grandma are dead, I’m miserable, talk to ya next year!” You see what I mean? I needed more time so I could have something to say beyond spewing out the rancor of my grief.

This year, then, we had two years to cover, and lots has happened. It was hard keeping length down, but I decided that folks would be more tolerant of three pages of writing if they got a full page of color pixs at the end. And … drumroll, please … I did get those letters and cards out on time this year — sent em on Friday. Took over a week to write all the little notes and the addresses and such. But it feels good. Like I’ve made the effort to acknowledge the connection. I’m not going to win a Pulitzer for it, but my writing has served its purpose.

I also let folks know in my letter that I have started a blog, so if any of you readers are my long-lost relatives or friends, welcome, and sorry again about the long silence and then lengthy chattering! And if you have any information (stories, documents, photos, memorabilia) that can help me write Grandma’s book, please email me and let me know!

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5 Responses

  1. I’m not a long-lost relative, so can’t help you with your Grandma’s memoirs, but I can tell you that I love those annual Christmas letters from my two friends who write them. We get so caught up in the activities of our daily lives, and with family and friends living all over the world these days, these letters are a great way to stay in touch. Rarely, do either of my friends who write them, get them out before Christmas. They have kids, and busy lives like most of us, and although I think they start the letters long before the holidays, their family obligations take over, and the letters sit on their desks until the excitement of the holidays calms down. Then, sometime in January, we get them. And, yes, the pictures are always a pleasant addition.

    In my world, these letters qualify as writing at its finest. Letter writing. I miss sending and receiving handwritten letters – the kind from my childhood. I remember when I began typing letters, then writing them on my computer, then email and cheap long-distance phone calls took over. No more letters. Until someone dies, and then, for some reason, people send cards with handwritten notes, even entire letters inserted. How we appreciated these cards, notes, and letters when Owen and Dave’s mom died this year.

    Congratulations on getting your Christmas letters out before Christmas!

  2. That makes you a writer, for sure. That is such a nice idea and if I were in your family I would surely enjoy getting one of these letters no matter then length.

    Maybe I’ll have to start this tradition in my family. Hmm.

  3. Di,
    I LOVE the letters. I feel so much the same about writing them as well. Our busy lives leave little room to connect the rest of the year, but at least we have this. πŸ™‚
    Your long and unseen but not lost friend, Carrie

  4. Not a relative either…but just a thought. Letter and journal writing used to be a literary art form. Nowadays’ equivalent probably is blogging (?), with one click you’re a published ‘writer’. Despite or because of such an easy and convenient way to be an on-line ‘writer’, I respect and greatly admire those who still take the time to actually write letters, Christmas, form, or otherwise. All the best in your mission of wgb in the coming year.

  5. Thanks, Linda, struggling writer, Carrie, and Arti! Wow! You all made my day. It’s nice to know people appreciate letters and think of this as “real” writing. I guess when it comes down to it, I think it is pretty important writing, too.

    And welcome, my pal Carrie!! So VERY nice to hear from you πŸ™‚ I’ll email soon. Gotta get to the store and get some groceries before the big storm hits in an hour!

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