For me the hardest part of composing this yearly newsletter is getting started. To help me with that I usually reread past versions to see how I’ve done it before. And so on Friday, I hauled out the Christmas file and flipped through this family history-in-letters.
The first thing that hit me was how technology has changed things. The earliest letters were handwritten on lined notepaper. A couple of years after that I designed letters that folded into cards with calligraphy or pen-and-ink drawings on the front. I painstakingly printed the artwork and the letter itself on parchment paper those years to keep the ink from fuzzing, as it did if I used bond. Then I photocopied them.
In 1990 I must have hauled out my old manual Olympus to do the Christmas letter - because it definitely has the typewriter look (white-out and all). Then in 1991 I used a borrowed word processor. Finally in 1992 I got a computer which I’ve used till the present, printing the letters on a variety of Christmas stationary.
In addition to mirroring advances in technology, a bit of the history of the times comes through these letters too. For example the 1990 letter begins:
In only a few more weeks 1990 will be history. It has truly been an amazing year in our world, with the unexpected toppling of much of the Eastern Bloc, the sudden flare-up in the Middle East and looming uncertainties throughout our country as befuddled politicians tackle one brush fire after another...
(My goodness, that last bit could be a description of Canadian politics any year!)
In 1997 a mail strike was pending and that year’s letter started out:
To write or not to write that is the question,
Whether the mail will move we do not know
But when it comes to friends, e’en the suggestion
That we’d forget them’s answered with a ‘No!'
And a year later, as email became the favorite mode of communication for me, I jingled:
Email would be faster
a visit even better,
but as tradition would dictate,
from us a Christmas letter....
The most favorite part of rereading these letters, though, is reliving times with the kids. Here are a few favorite bits.
From the 1990 letter when B. had just turned five:
...This is a conversation we overheard between him and a little boy in the next seat on the ferry this summer. They were watching some object in the sky.
Little Boy: ...maybe it will go as high as Santa Claus.
B.: Santa Claus is a sham
Little Boy: (silence)
B: Do you know what a "sham" is? It’s a fake.
We nervously glanced at the little boy’s parents and were
relieved when the two boys started talking about something else.
(Though Santa was never part of our Christmas tradition, we did not coach our kids to dash other kids' illusions about Father Christmas - honestly.)
And from that same letter:
S’s comeback to B’s endless knock-knock jokes:
S.: This is a recording. There is nobody home.
Finally, from the 1993 letter, when S. was 10 and not the keenest pianist:
...I brought some dispute between the children re: piano practice times to Ernie, our resident mediator and after he suggested a solution to the problem, he declared, "I’m as good as Solomon," at which point I heard S. mutter, "Yeah, cut the piano in half!"
Alas, reading all these old letters brings me no closer to starting this year’s. But I’ll think of a way to begin it in due course. Because I wouldn’t want to break this letter chain– which already spans 20 years!
I first posted this on my blog in late November 2005. That year I did get around to putting together a collection of letters for the kids. I made color copies of each, slipped them into plastic protective sheets, printed a photo collage cover, put the works into D-ring binders and called the project "Our Story in Letters."
So take up that pen or head over to that keyboard to write your annual Christmas letter. After all, you're writing much more than a letter - you're writing history.
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