Those old maligned Christmas letters

The families who didn’t send Christmas letters poked fun at the people who did send Christmas letters.

One joke was that the Christmas letters never told the straight skinny–as we called the real truth in the navy–but presented a fantasy version of the family’s activities. Jail time, divorces, bad grades on report cards, and acne never made it into th Christmas letter. It was all good news, creating world peace, saving people from poverty, and receiving various honors and awards.

My parents added new people to their Christmas letter list at every stop in the road of my father’s advancement up through the faculty ranks. Every new college added people we would know the rest of our lives through cards and letters even though we knew them on a day-to-day basis for a few months or a year.

When my parents passed away, I sent their last letter letting everyone know they were gone and thereafter received cards and letters every year from people I hadn’t seen for half a lifetime.

In later years, the family Christmas leters–collected in a three-ring binder–became my memory. If I couldn’t remember what year we visted Niagara Falls or Fort Ticonderoga or Mammoth Cave, I’d pull out the Christma letter diary and look it up. It’s been a handy resource. On the curiosity side, since my folks put their current address in the letters, I’ve been able to use Google Maps and look up all the houses where we lived back into the 1940s. They’re still there. There have been a few times, though, when I wanted to write the current owners and say, “You really screwed up the front yard.”

I don’t send out Christmas letters. But I do send snail mail cards. It’s a way of staying in touch, old fashioned as it may be. A few friends still send us Christmas letters, some interesting, some tedious. As people get older, they often spend a lot of time traveling: so what we get really isn’t a letter, but an intinerary. We skim those because we really don’t need to know the details of every roadtrip.

Frankly, it would ramp up our interest if letters said stuff like, “Laura spent more time this year in county for turning tricks on Tenderloin Street” and “Bob got caught with his hand in the till at work and had to move to a new church” and “Sam’s had syphilis most of the year again while Megan is hanging out with a bad crowd.”

I’ve been tempted to say such things, but my wife thought it was a bad idea. Probably so.

I often wonder if people under 30 these days care about family continuity whether it’s coming from or saving old letters. It bothers me to think more and more people don’t care who their grandparents were/are or where they lived. All of that past family history seems to play a role in creating the people we’ve become–even if we joke about it by saying, “Acccording to the Christmas letter of 1983. . .”


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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