On being … the return of the Christmas letter

 By Ingrid Sapona                

I know the date on the calendar is November 15th and so you’re probably scratching your head thinking it’s a bit EARLY for a Christmas letter. Yes, it is. And, as you continue reading, you’ll probably really wonder about the title, as you might have thought that today’s column is a Christmas letter. It is not. 

I’m writing today to encourage folks to send out a Christmas letter. At first I was just going to encourage those who stopped writing them to revive the tradition. But, truth is, I’d welcome receiving a holiday catch-up letter from any friend. And, as importantly, I think those who make the effort may find it surprisingly fulfilling.  

I don’t remember exactly when I got my first Christmas letter – or even which friends used to send them. My best guess is that many friends initiated them when they started having kids. Though their lives and schedules were hectic, I think the sheer variety of events that filled their year seemed worth reporting on. I loved hearing about all the goings on. The letters always brought a smile and huge admiration for the energy it took to manage it all, I’m not really sure when different friends stopped writing them. I do know that I first realized it recently, after a call with a college friend who used to send one. The conversation was a general catch-up – you know the kind: each person runs through how work is going, how parents and siblings are and, of course, what children are up to. (Interestingly, these days catch-up calls often touch on a few new topics: retirement plans and inquiries about grandchildren – actual or planned.)   

When my friend mentioned they were headed off to Europe soon for one daughter’s wedding, I wasn’t surprised. I knew she worked abroad and it wasn’t unexpected that she’d marry a local. But I WAS surprised to learn that with this wedding, all three of their daughters would be married. Somehow, I had lost track of one daughter’s nuptials. I’m pretty good with such details and I was mad with myself for not knowing this. After we hung up, however, I felt a bit less guilting because I realized that’s just the sort of detail they’d have mentioned in their Christmas letter – but they stopped doing one a few years ago. 

Admittedly, I’ve never written a Christmas letter, so I don’t know how difficult – or time consuming it is. I imagine it’s challenging to look back over the year and assess what might be the “highlights” you think others might be interested in. And I think maybe folks who are active on social media (Facebook or whatever) think that friends who are interested in keeping up with them will do so on social media. But such posts seem mostly about quick pictures, quips, and comments. An annual letter is very different. Random social media posts don’t provide a narrative thread. The way you weave different events together in a letter helps friends understand the impact they had on you. The letter helps me feel connected to how your life is unfolding, even if we’re far apart and don’t chat much during the year. 

Most of my friends who sent Christmas letters while their kids were growing up have stopped sending them. It’s almost as though when their kids moved out, they thought their friends outgrew hearing about them or their family. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, one Christmas letter I especially look forward to is from a couple I became acquainted with through an association I used to belong to. This couple got married later in life and they were very active in a civic group that sponsors community projects throughout the world. Their letters were always interesting and inspirational – filled with news about their travels and their volunteer activities. The husband died last year and I’m sure that knocked the wind out of his wife’s sails a bit, but I’ll bet she has carried on the volunteer work. I’m sure hoping she has it in her to continue the Christmas letter too. 

A friend who normally sends out a Christmas letter mentioned the other day that she wasn’t sure if she’s going to write one this year. When I asked her why should wouldn’t, she basically said she’s just feeling too pooped to make the effort. Ok, I get that … (believe me, the 15th and 30th of each month come around pretty quickly). But I think her friends would enjoy hearing about her year and I’m hoping this column might help convince her to make the effort. 

If I haven’t yet convinced you to write a Christmas letter for your friends’ sake, I say do it for yourself. Writing one is the opportunity to take stock of the past year. It’s similar to what you might do when thinking about New Year’s resolutions – but it’s certainly not as onerous. And who knows – it may help you think about what you’d like out of 2024. Bonus! (And don’t use the holiday rush as an excuse for not doing one. No one will mind receiving it a week or two after the holidays – if anything, they’ll have more time to enjoy it.) 

So, there you have my pitch. Your friends will understand if they don’t get a Christmas letter from you. They are your friends, after all. But think of all the interesting conversations a Christmas letter would prompt. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


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