I think it’s time to say some nice things about the ubiquitous and often-maligned, one-size-fits-all holiday letter that falls out of holiday greeting cards. And about sending cards in general.
I love ’em. Let’s start with the sending of cards. Not that online greetings aren’t nice, but they’re no substitute for holding the card in hand, reading the little hand-written note in the corner, admiring the holiday scene on the cover and checking to see how Aunt Tillie’s handwriting has held up over the years. And for that matter, being glad to know that far-away Aunt Tillie is still alive.
Let’s face it, we don’t communicate as often as we should – sometimes only at Christmas – with relatives and friends living in other parts of the country or across the globe. There’s something about the holiday season that inspires us, or at least some of us, to reach out and say hello.
I love the process of selecting cards. For those who are Jewish, I make sure to get “season’s greetings” or Chanukah messages. For those who are Christian and devout, I try to have appropriately modest and perhaps more spiritual images (no “ho ho ho” cards). And for those who are more secular or fall into the category loosely described as “other” – well, I choose boxes with general holiday or other seasonal messages (“peace” is often a good choice here).
And I do buy them by the box, as I send out cards to a lot of friends and family members, including people right here in Spokane. I hand-sign the cards, hand-write the envelopes, affix the stamps (holiday stamps, of course) and scribble a short note to those who have had a special event during the year – birth of a grandchild, for example, and sometimes a not-so-wonderful occurrence, such as the loss of a loved one. In the latter case, the card will be most sedate (“thinking of you at the holidays”), but it’s still important, I think, to let those you care about know that they have a place in your heart, that you haven’t forgotten and that you are remembering them at a time of year that for them is less joyous than it has been in the past.
And, I’m sorry, but an email just doesn’t do any of that.
Now, as for that formlike letter that often arrives with the card, I’ve come to think of them as lovely additions. I didn’t used to, but then things changed. It’s funny how circumstance can bring you around. I started doing them myself when my right hand decided it could no longer write long notes in a whole lot of cards – not unless I started the process in September. My hand pretty well poops out after a few lines. Still, I want to share personal messages in my holiday greetings, so I came to a compromise. As mentioned, I now handwrite a short line or two where called for and use the photocopied letter for the rest (happily, I’m still capable of lengthy keyboarding) – and I hope people aren’t offended.
I will agree, of course, that there are letters that are way too long and filled with way too much minutia. Those are the ones that give the genre a bad name. Yes, I am interested to know about your hernia surgery, but I really don’t need to know the details of each and every symptom, the name and dosage of every medication you take (including all your adverse reactions) and every darn cute thing each and every grandchild has done in the past 12 months (one or two vignettes per child will be fine, unless you have a dozen grandkids, then just pick one or two to detail). But I really do want to hear about you and what’s going on in your life. In summary form, please.
My book of holiday letter etiquette calls for relatively short and snappy (snappy, only if appropriate to the subject) prose. My own letter this year is just 300 words long. I threw in a couple of photos and, all in all, I think it’s a reasonably pleasing and informative update on the Pettit family in 2011. I hope the far-flung recipients of the letter will feel the same way.
And if they don’t, they can choose not to read it. But at the very least, they will know that they are in my thoughts and that at holiday time, as another year winds down, they are important enough to me to merit the effort – to send them a card and a letter, to let them know they are loved and appreciated.