As someone who has been sending them for nearly 20 years, I’ve earned the right to speak up in support of those who take the time to share their family happenings and yearly highlights each holiday season – via email or snail mail – matters not to me.
I want you to know that when your letter comes to my mailbox, I am always delighted with the contents. Please don’t apologize for the mass mailing or the form letter. You’ve taken the time to tell me something about your life and I can’t begin to tell you how much more meaningful that is to me than a card with just your signature on the inside.
It is true that in an ideal world, we would see each other more often and have the opportunity to catch up in person, but the fact of the matter is that you live there and I live here and we both have busy and full lives. It would have been easy for us to have forgotten all about one another by now, but because we make it a priority to, at the very least, exchange these once-a-year greetings, it will be even more likely that we will reconnect one day in person. Maybe I’ll be traveling through your town and will think of you (because I’ve gotten your letter each year) and I will look you up. Maybe you’ll be traveling through mine.
I don’t look upon it as bragging when you tell me about the accomplishments of your children or of the things that have happened to your family in the past year. To those who do, I think they should take a moment to rethink their stance. We live in a world that is far too quick to dwell on the negative and focus on the sorrow. Perhaps the condition of our world would improve if we all took the time to focus on what we are grateful for. We should ride the wave of a friend’s good fortune and be happy alongside them rather than look for ways to tear them down.
I appreciate your sorrows, as well. The death of a pet or the death of a parent, these are all part of our shared experience as humans and I like to think we do good for one another just sending kind thoughts or healing energy each other’s way.
You can be guaranteed that I will read your letter at least three times before the day is over. The first time, I will likely still be standing there in front of my mailbox, unless it’s truly cold and the snow is blowing, then I might take the time to scurry inside before I indulge myself in your words. I will memorize the faces of your children, even if I’ve never met them, and I will look for what I remember about you in their eyes, their smiles, their noses and their interests.
My kids will see your letter and they’ll ask, “Who’s that?” and I’ll tell them about the year you lived across the hall in college, or how I met you at my very first “real” job, or we’ll review the family tree so they can visualize where you hang on it. If they’ve met you, and probably even if they have not, we will pull out the photo albums and play remember-when.
When the holidays are over, I will bundle your letters with others I have received and store them in a cabinet where I save my sentimental treasures. Cards will go to someone’s recycled art project, but the letters I will keep where I know I can read them again.
In every place and stage of my life, I’ve left behind people who meant a lot to me. There was a time when I worked very hard to keep in touch with every single one of them. At some point, I began winnowing that list down. Those who send me holiday letters, even if it is the exact same letter that has been mailed to 101 other people, never fall off my list. It says to me that I mean enough you want to keep in touch, as well. It’s worth it. We’ve got history together, and I enjoy seeing where the twists and turns of life have taken you.
So don’t apologize for your photocopied letters, or your mass emailed letters, or your links to letters online. They are read and they are well received. I look forward to them every year. And if they lead to the occasional, more personal email, or a phone call, or even a visit – now or 15 years from now – they will be worth every effort.
Thank you for taking the time to write.
P.S. My annual holiday letter is not fully distributed yet. If 2012 gets here and you still haven’t received one from me, feel free to rattle my cage.
P.P.S. It occurs to me that, aside from family, I tend to add folks to my annual letter list when I’ve left a place behind. I guess I tend to assume that if you see me on a somewhat regular basis, you are already informed. No slight intended, and the link to my letter should be up soon if you want to send me an email, I’ll share.