December 26, 2009 in Washington Voices

Newsletters connect us to loved ones

Deborah Chan
 

Few things bring out holiday ridicule like the Christmas letter.

This annual information blowout has justifiably earned potshots; like you, my family has received bloated helium missives sailing above reality, boasting dazzling family lives inconceivable to mortals.

One year my husband Richard and I sent out a reactive parody, a “dream letter,” in which he invented transparent concrete, designed my fall wardrobe, completed a lengthy piano concerto and performed it with the Spokane Symphony, gave me a huge diamond ring, and published “Weather in the Inland Northwest” in four volumes. I completed a doctorate in neuropsychology, led a team of 12 researchers at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, developed dessert recipes for Gourmet Magazine, memorized (in three weeks) the entire New Testament in Greek, had a painting in the Guggenheim, and was pestered by Meryl Streep (filming the movie “The River Wild” in Montana) for my killer brownie recipe. Our cat Musette’s innovative gymnastic moves garnered her the Greater Spokane League’s Athlete of the Year award, and we three bungee-jumped off El Capitan and bagged Mount Everest.

We were stunned to discover we’d unintentionally punked a few recipients, even a couple local friends. They were suckered halfway through this comic epistle before its preposterousness broke through. Guffaws all around.

The annual letter, though, bloviation or not, has a more important place than ever. People now relate more through e-mail or Facebook than through phone calls or in person. With Twitter and texting we have more and faster access to each other, but are saying less. With short messages and acronymic shortcuts, we often share banal moments but not the fullness of our lives, IMHO.

In writing annual letters, we not only sit down to contemplate and review our year for friends in scattered locations, we can share perspective on it, too. In what other way do we do this?

Therefore Richard and I prize these letters, with actual handwritten signatures and little notes; we can hold them in our hands and feel the connection. We don’t care if they’re brag sheets, newsletters, short notes or literary masterpieces; whether they’re “written” by adults, kids, pets, or a third-person fly on the wall. They’re unique and rare in a cyber world and we enjoy how they reflect our friends’ personalities. On Christmas day, in front of the fire, we open and read them to each other, feeling our friends are celebrating with us.

And we enjoy their scope and variety.

A friend who lives in Illinois with her husband is a Ph.D. historian. In highly detailed multi-paged letters, she meticulously documents their every trip or venture, citing exact dates, names of everyone they saw, and every historic site they visited. All that’s missing are footnotes. These amusingly pedantic tomes have somehow become a highlight of our year.

Friends in New York, a large pastoral family active in many artistic pursuits, write enjoyable themed letters. They sprinkled a recent one with entertaining bat facts after coping with an attic invasion.

A couple who mentored me during my 20s have done short-term practical mission work in jungles and mountains around the world for decades, up through their 70s. Their amazing letters remind us of how selfless, generous hearts spread goodness everywhere, every day.

No texts or tweets could possibly measure up to these treasures that land in our mailbox.

Reading and writing annual letters is a satisfying way to end one year and enter a new one. I hope this endangered species lives on and thrives.

Richard and I may have parodied the stereotypical annual letter for giggles.

But, no joke, my brownies really are to die for.

Reach Deborah Chan at tabbytoes@comcast.net


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email