January 6, 2009

Holiday Letters

This year, like most, we accumulated a basket full of Christmas cards. I love getting them. I'm sure for most of us, the holiday season is the only time of year we hear from some folks - far-flung family, childhood friends, long-lost single former coworkers who got fed up looking for the right guy and got knocked up using donated sperm. Okay, maybe that last one is just me. You get my drift.

What I think I enjoy even more than the Christmas cards are the letters some people include. Some are good - witty, funny, not too self-absorbed. And some are tragically bad. Those - the bad ones - are perhaps the most entertaining.

Every year, we get at least one letter that is full of the most mundane stuff ever written. For example: Last year at this time, the Suburban had 54,204 miles on it. This year it has 62,331 miles. That's 8,123 miles. Can you believe it?. Well, yes but what I can't believe is that that simple fact made the Christmas letter cut. What was sacrificed so that nugget could be included? Each of us still have our 32 teeth or I counted the other day and I have 3,403 brown hairs and 948 gray ones. Scintillating. And you did the math wrong.

More prevalent are the letters written by well-intentioned people who have no business writing anything for public consumption, those who know nothing about punctuation and don't employ the use of spellcheck. Weave ben getting lots of snow this year. Their is about five (5) inch of snot on the ground now and wear going to have to start shoveling soon. Five inches of woven snot? From what circle of hell are they writing? Bud and I are thrilled to welcome our new son-in-law Jane into our bosom. We're even happier to announce that Jane and Tom will be proud parents - and us proud grandparents - in November. Let me get this straight - your son married a guy named Jane who is miraculously pregnant with a child due in 11 months? And you're smothering him with your boobies?

Perhaps the most tragic Christmas letter comes from a friend of the family, Big Bill, who I've mentioned in the past. Big Bill, his wife and two sons (one of whom is unsurprisingly referred to as Little Bill) lived down the street from us. Growing up Little Bill and I were inseparable. A few years ago Big Bill's wife died in a car accident. Big Bill - already a sad, stoic kind of guy - didn't really know what to do with himself. And he's never really figured it out. He's just - what's the word I'm looking for - lost.

Last year I could not get organized and no Christmas cards went out in the mail. This year I am trying to do better. I've taken a couple of train trips this year including a Pullman ride to Los Angeles. I enjoyed it a lot. My high school class had our 50th reunion this summer which simply proved that we've all grown old or died. I hope this holiday season is a happy one for you.

Nothing says happy holidays like everyone I love is dead.

I'm pretty sure that the holiday letter is dying a slow death. Blogs, Facebook and MySpace will soon render them obsolete. And it'll be a little sad. I'll miss getting those letters shoved into cheesy Christmas cards. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones.

Do you send holiday letters? Who do you hear from only during the holidays? And who do you wish you heard from more often?

Posted by Chris at January 6, 2009 6:27 AM

I bought some awesome Christmas cards on clearance after Christmas last year -- but they appear to have been lost in the move down here. So all of this past December I played the 'why buy more, what if they turn up' game. AKA "oh dear GOD I am so glad I don't have to bother with cards this year' game.

I love getting them, but sort of hate the hassle of sending. Letters and pictures in cards are the best, but I totally agree with your assessment of letters being a lost art!

Posted by: FattyLumpa at January 6, 2009 7:27 AM

You know what we noticed this year? The decline of ANY personalization with the advent of the photo-card from your local Wal-Mart or whatever. You slap a photo of your kids in a Photoshopped frame with a generic message, stick it in an envelope and voila, you're done. No need to say "Dear So and So" or sign it. Sure, some people sent cards with photos inside, but a lot just sent one of those photo-cards.

(Also? The letters that are 90% medical... "Zeke got a real bad cough, then he got better, then I got the same cough, well, not the same so much as another cough, and then he had outpatient surgery for that nail in his head, and...")

Posted by: SciFi Dad at January 6, 2009 7:31 AM

I don't send a Christmas card for my little family unit but I write about my fam for my mom's BIG holiday letter - and (I'm gonna put on my brag-hat), it's the best written part of her whole freakin' letter because I employ the rules of grammar (usually) and I only include the good stuff.

There are many people who I would just rather not get a Christmas letter from. It's the little things that I don't find newsworthy that I can't believe make the cut (though no one has ever told me about the mileage on their vehicle before).

As a kid, there was one family who would always send a letter. I *dreaded* their letter -- they had way more money than my fam, so it was filled with "We started the year in Rio" and then "it was the fourth Tuesday of the third month so we decided we'd go skiing in Switzerland" and blah blah blah about how well their kids were doing in their mommy-funded activities. You know, great for them, but I always pictured them reading through our Christmas letter feeling sorry for us that any of our achievements were considered big news. (Sigh, guess I still have issues).

Posted by: sarah at January 6, 2009 7:35 AM

Every Christmas for the 18 years I've sent a family picture card because we've always had relatives living on a different coast than where we were. Family picture cards are my favorite part of Christmas mail but I ALWAYS write something to the people I'm sending to - ALWAYS.
We have one cousin who sends out a delightful, thoughtful, thought provoking letter and I save them every year. Another cousin we learned all about his wife's infertility and their attempts to conceive a child one year - TMI PEOPLE!
A family in town sends my sister a letter - full of junk that no one cares about. Like last year - their 8th grade daughter spends so much time on the computer and she's such a night owl so they bought her her own laptop so she can stay up on the computer while they go to bed - YIKES!
There are a few people I continue to send to but don't hear from (I know, so why send?) and ones I hear from that don't write a friggin' thing on the card that I think "why bother?".

Posted by: NancyJak at January 6, 2009 7:55 AM

I love getting Christmas letters. The e-cards seem so impersonal. Here in Europe, typical is to buy a box of cards and only sign your name. The card should say the message. I find that impersonal as well. Why bother paying the postage? But my all-time fave card ever was from our neighbor. He didn't bother to sign the cards...he used an address label stuck inside. And to make it even better, the address label was stuck on tilted AND upside down. It just doesn't get any better than that!

Posted by: Tera at January 6, 2009 7:57 AM

We don't do letters because I sort of find them appalling; however, I do love to get the bad ones. I look forward to one in particular each year. The guy used to work with my husband, they're quite well off and I know the wife fancies herself to be something special. Apparently money doesn't mean you know how to use spellcheck or correct gramma. This year's letter was an entire, single spaced, 8.5x11 sheet of nothing but Wife and Kids. There was one two sentence pity paragraph thrown in about the husband and it contained a veiled slam ("Husband spends his free time either on the golf course or in his new car" - knowing her, she disapproves of both). I'm not doing it justice, but the letter was hilarious in a horrific way.

My other pet peeve about holiday letters is that people try to write them in the third person but inevitably fail to be consistent and slip back and forth into first person. Drives me crazy.

Posted by: Shelly at January 6, 2009 8:14 AM

I always enjoy (?) getting the Christmas letter from our redneck bigot 2nd cousins twice removed from MI. They are so trashy. They talk about rat hunting. For fun. And all the illnesses they have survived over the yard. Hard to believe there is shared blood in there somewhere.

Posted by: Lisa at January 6, 2009 8:32 AM

I do not like Christmas newsletters. They drive me nuts. :) I'm not keen on Christmas pictures or cookie-cutter Christmas cards either.

But I love Christmas.

I just find the whole mailing-people-things an eco-disaster. I make an exception for handmade cards because they are cute and people made an effort.

Posted by: Jen R. (aaron-n-jen.com) at January 6, 2009 8:47 AM

This is exactally why I don't write letters. :)

We get one from a family member every year. She prides herself on her Stamping and Scrapbooking abilities.. Which is why she photocopied a piece of paper that had a Stamp on it that said "Happy Holidays!" onto another piece of white paper.. oh and it was crooked .. along with the typeset (not sure if she used her PC or if she used a real type-writer) Her letters are the hi-light of the Christmas season!

Posted by: Molly at January 6, 2009 8:54 AM

I kind of always wanted to send a holiday letter but then I remember how much I ridiculed the ones my parents got as I was growing up. So I try not to bore anyone with our details.

Posted by: Claire at January 6, 2009 8:58 AM

You know, I have never gotten (or sent) a Christmas letter. I don't think anyone I know does that.

Posted by: Fraulein N at January 6, 2009 9:08 AM

I quit sending letters last year and instead produced a Christmas video. This year, we never even got around to sending Christmas cards. I ended up emailing a link to the video to friends and family.

Interestingly, we only received about 15 Christmas cards this year, less than 1/2 the usual total. I think that my prove my theory that 1/2 of all Christmas cards are mailed after you receive one from somebody else.

Posted by: COD at January 6, 2009 9:12 AM

My friend received one from his single Uncle Tom and it went a little like this
"I thought it would be nice to send a holiday letter this year.
People send holiday letters to update you on geographical moves, changes in employment, family additions and such, so here goes. Ain't shit happened."
It was so funny and he has it on his fridge. I move too much so all of my holiday cards go to my ex's house, I'll surely get them by February.

Posted by: mymilabean at January 6, 2009 9:16 AM

"Nothing says happy holidays like everyone I love is dead."

It's not NICE to make people snarf this early in the morning! :p

We got more Christmas cards than ever this year. It was really awesome. I love hearing from people. I still haven't sent any out and that makes me feel rather guilty.

Posted by: Hope at January 6, 2009 9:18 AM

Sadly, I don't send or receive holiday letters. I would especially love to receive them. People stopped writing to me a decade before email became popular because I used to correct as I read. My sister told me I was going to hell for doing that even though I explained that I "cann't" help myself. Strange that those same people still send me poorly written email, no?

Posted by: Maria at January 6, 2009 9:20 AM

I used to get a bunch of Christmas letters, but these days I only get a few. And those tend to be from people I see on a regular basis, where I'm familiar with most of the details in the letter because I was a participant in many of the activities.

Posted by: J at January 6, 2009 9:28 AM

Before I got married, I sent out about 30-40 holiday cards...I personalized each one, signed each one. Got married and the card count went to 130ish! I spent the first few years personalizing each card....with at least the name of the recipient and our names. At least I started printing the labels!!!

I think it was the year before Leda was born that we sent out the first holiday letter...AND I started just signing the cards, not personalizing them (except for a few, that I might put a little note on)...We announced we were pregnant. And, I've done one every year. The first year Leda was alive, we did a family photo so there was no signing. Even with a holiday letter, it felt so impersonal.

I dreaded the holiday letter. Now, I like it. I agree, letter writing is going out of style and it's really sad. Not just the holiday letter, but any letter writing. I try not to get too personal, too boring. And I always spell check!

I'll continue to do the holiday letter...and at least signing each card personally and a few might still get a note from us! It may take a while to do and my hand may get a little tired and cramped, but I totally think it's worth it!

Posted by: cyndy at January 6, 2009 9:40 AM

Oh, and I totally love getting them...holiday letters, that is. And yes, I do get a bad one or two that I love even more! ;-)

Posted by: cyndy at January 6, 2009 9:42 AM

I flaked on xmas cards this year so I'm doing valentines. let me know if you guys want one, and I'll address it to Mia. I'm sure she will get a kick out of it if she is anything like my kid.

Posted by: lora at January 6, 2009 9:53 AM

Oh, the holiday letter. I love them and hate them. The brag fest ones that try to make you believe they shit rainbows usually get sent straight to the trash. The bad ones though, are treasured or mocked or lovingly mocked or mockingly treasured. Yes, most of them are from MY family, sadly my mother included. The "best" one I received this year was from my cousin who spent 3 pages discussing all her bad boyfriend choices. Holiday Cheer: The Essay.

Posted by: SassyPants at January 6, 2009 9:56 AM

I send XMAS cards every year, I do the traditional card with pictures and I write a personal (short) note to the recipient.

Posted by: La Petite Belle at January 6, 2009 10:16 AM

We enjoy getting the holiday letters, even the 'worst' of them, because, as you suggest, they are a chance to catch up a little with wide-flung family/friends. This year (w/ a 1yo and a 2.5yo) we tried something new -- we included an insert that listed things each of us were grateful for (the 1yo's list was marked 'speculative'). So far we've gotten some nice feedback on it.

On a separate note, I very much enjoy reading your posts (as well as Beth's). Thank you!

Posted by: paul at January 6, 2009 10:24 AM

i love to get christmas letters too. its nice to see how people have changed from one holiday season to the next. i also like to include a litle letter about us and if yo ulike i will happily add you to my mailing list for next year. we can keep the christmas letter alive! do I hear an Amen!

Posted by: madmom at January 6, 2009 10:33 AM

My thought has always been, "What makes me think these people want to hear the endless drivel that makes up my life?"

And then I went and started a blog.

For strangers.

Posted by: k8 at January 6, 2009 10:47 AM

unfortunately, as many cards as we get, we don't get that many letters. we only got two letters this year. both were from the uber-christian relatives that talk a lot about their church activities and use a lot of capitalized "Him" and "His" in their writing to reference jesus.

Posted by: kati at January 6, 2009 11:23 AM

Usually, I do Christmas cards. But this year, I suddenly realize what a waste of paper and money it is to send cards, so I did a video one. And being a video card without a video camera (and no cute little girl singing Police Navidad), I did a slide show of what we've been up to all year instead. (Sent you one, didn't I?)

Next year though, big production of something a little less boring. I'm sure to pick up a video camera by then. :)

Posted by: oakley at January 6, 2009 11:28 AM

OMFG - this was hilarious, Chris. I just laughed out loud with my office door open and I am not one to laugh out loud unless something REALLY strikes me as hilarious.

We don't send out Christmas cards and I kind of hate receiving them, too. They're such a waste of paper! Especially the ones where people just sign their names inside - no personal message or anything. Sure, the family photos are cute, but can't that just be emailed out? I know there are people who are obsessed with collecting lots of cards just so they can hang it on the wall and think "Wow, look how many friends we have!" (Not that that's what you do, I'm just saying - it's what some people do.) But I'd rather save ourselves the hassle. I would hope that our friends and family know that we care for them just by us keeping in contact with everyone all year long.

PS - Did you see? I made it onto the Express's Blog Log page yesterday! Check out my site to see the goods.

Posted by: Liberal Banana at January 6, 2009 11:41 AM

I love holiday letters. My favorite professor from college sends his out on Groundhog's Day and I look forward to it every year.

My mom's cousin used to send a holiday letter each year. One year the letter consisted of a quick summary (basically confirming everyone was alive and well) and then featured funny things their kids had said throughout the year. Granted, some of them were inside jokes, but some things (since they provided the context) were genuinely funny. Apparently Bill Cosby received a copy of this letter, as this was before his "Kids Say the Darndest Things" show debuted. The holiday letter was way funnier.

Posted by: erin at January 6, 2009 11:45 AM

Y'know, I didn't and I feel like a dick because of it. I enjoy writing the letters and the people to whom I send them tell me they enjoy getting them, so the only explanation that I can come up with is that I'm a lazy bastard. One of the cards I get is from someone who writes an entire page in rhymed verse that covers their entire year. It's impressive because it really doesn't suck at all. Not sucking at rhyming your life is a talent. Consider The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, for example.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at January 6, 2009 12:06 PM

I am in no possible way coordinated enough to send out holiday cards.

And that's just fine with me.

Posted by: jessica at January 6, 2009 12:18 PM

Hilarious! I love the Christmas letters too. But this year I didn't get a single one. I think you're totally right. When you're blogging about your life every couple of days, what is there left to say? Except, of course, to talk about woven snot.

Posted by: matt at January 6, 2009 1:16 PM

Oh I love the christmas letters, I haven't ever sent one though, I get too worried that it isn't interesting enough! My SIL though, my god. The woman needs to stop with the letters. Reading it makes me cringe at the spelling, wrong use of words, paragraphs that are all one sentence, sentences that don't make sense, etc. Its sad, but no one tells her. Apparently I am going to hell now.

Posted by: Kristin at January 6, 2009 1:20 PM

I love getting stuff in the mail, so of course I'd give everyone else the pleasure of getting stuff too. A few years ago I started the card tradition. This year both my boyfriend and I sent out over 50 to people who we thought would appreciate them. I got really nice cards, we took the time to insert a small snapshot of us on one of our recent trips to Maine (and I mean, smaller than wallet size), and we worked together on writing a letter explaining our past year. Thinking we did a good job, we were surprised to have at least 3 or 4 of our friends mock us for "the cheesy picture" or the "long piece of paper which I just tossed to the side". WTF?! Maybe we shouldn't even try... those damn cards were expensive this year. Oh well, I at least got one nice remark about our gesture.

Posted by: Laura at January 6, 2009 1:38 PM

I will never be able to send a Christmas letter because I have had such fun over the years picking apart other people's letters that karma would guarantee that I make some tremendous gaffe in mine and everyone would laugh.

We always get some doozies- one family whose letter is ALWAYS over the top with horse shows, cruises in the Mediterranean, Christmas in Switzerland, etc. this year wrote one terse sentence about how one daughter has decided to "assert her independence" by moving to a small town to be a teacher, with a tiny, incredibly unflattering picture, then went on for TWO FULL PAGES about other daughter, star of international horse circuit. It was way awk.

Posted by: pseudostoops at January 6, 2009 2:00 PM

I thought about sending out a holiday letter this year. But I'm not sure everyone would appreciate what I consider to be this year's momentous occasions. "This year Hoop and I got married... and he tricked me into letting him fart on my hand. It was good."

Posted by: Tink at January 6, 2009 2:27 PM

The BFF and I are making a post-Christmas letter because we weren't together at Christmas and also because we were too lazy to do it before Christmas. I don't get yearly letters or anything. All of my cards come from internets people lol

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at January 6, 2009 2:30 PM

OMG that was so funny..."it simply proved we've all grown old or died" hahahahahaha in a Christmas letter! I'm gonna be laughin all day at that one. Do you accept blog friends as FB friends? I just noticed the icon at the bottom...

Posted by: Shannen at January 6, 2009 2:51 PM

I absolutely giggled throughout reading you post. I unfortunately (or is it fortunately?) do not get many Christmas Letters and certainly I do not write them because nobody wants to hear about the crap that was flung my way in 2008....but I did get one this year about how someone got a new roof put on their condo and thank goodness the "lord" provided for them because a storm hit the next week and had that new roof not been there it would have been ugly. Ummm okay. MERRY CHRISTMAS! You almost want to say. They are pretty funny. But the ones I find most nauseating are the ones that drone on and on for pages about what their little peanuts are doing, you know, little princess Penelope and big boy bobby are each in the choir at school and Penelope is taking jazz classes and bobby is #1 in his shop class....I'd rather watch paint dry. I'm sure I'll be equally enthralled with my kids awesome accomplishments and think his drool resembles the Mona Lisa...lets narrow it down to one page, much like a resume. Just the good stuff.

Posted by: Deirdre at January 6, 2009 3:32 PM

I do send a very short holiday letter, and I always include something that will be new to each person receiving it (got that tip from a friend).

I like to get the letters, except maybe the ones that go through the year month by month. But, it's interesting -- even if I see the person often -- to see what they think of as highlights of their year. My favorite letters nowadays are the ones that include photos printed with the letter. So they aren't just saying "We went to Mars!" but have a picture too! :-)

Posted by: Sandy at January 6, 2009 8:21 PM

I am guilty of sending out one Christmas letter. The year D and I got married. Many of our friends had not met the other since we had only dated for a year. We did a photo card and included news about our marriage and the fact that we were both going back to school. Somewhat boring, but the easiest way to tell everyone we had a small wedding and don't feel bad that you weren't invited.

I am guilty of sending out a ton of cards every year, but I try to write a personal note in each one.

Posted by: Krush at January 6, 2009 9:48 PM

I started writing a full page letter when Rex and I got together, and started the photo card thing when we started having all the kids. I have no idea if people like getting them or not, but *I* do, so I figure I'm making at least someone else happy.

We get one crazy letter from distant family each year that says something like "We really thought the Rapture was coming this year, but since you're not all dead, here's what we've been up to." Quite a cheery way to start a letter, and a little perplexing for this Card-carrying Atheist (TM).

Posted by: Becky at January 6, 2009 10:04 PM

that was hysterical.

This year was the first year I actually did make a holiday newsletter. In October, my husband rejoined the Army, moved to Korea, and in December, the kids and I followed, so I had a LOT to say and decided the easier way to tell everyone was to mention it in a holiday newsletter complete with pictures and new contact info. I dont think it ended up cheesy, but who knows!

Posted by: alfredsmom at January 6, 2009 10:38 PM

my friend has a spreadsheet that she keeps of who sends her a holiday card and then she uses that year after year to figure out who to keep or add to her mailing list. holy crap. that is intense!

i just mail to the vip people. this year i went for funny card. like a photo of santa with the words - pimp my sleigh. :)

Posted by: kat at January 6, 2009 11:56 PM

I love sending Christmas cards and usually put a little note in each one to make it more personal. I also love getting cards in the mail. It is so nice to get something that isn't bills or junk mail.

Posted by: Adi at January 7, 2009 12:30 AM

Five inches of snot on the ground...OMG...that one killed me!!! We are down to 2 or 3 holiday letters which is a shame bc hubs and I used to enjoy doing dramatic interpretations of them after a few glasses of wine.

Posted by: The Stiletto Mom at January 7, 2009 12:33 AM

Yes, the wife and I have a hard time swallowing the Christmas card letters we receive every year which include dinners with the president, trips to exotic Indian Ocean locations, mad sex with celebrities ... I just added that one in there.

In reality, I want the letter Sonia sends out. That or I'm making it all up just to show people that their letters suck.

BTW - BethFish did not include me on the list this year of letters. Our torrid affair may have precluded any insinuation she knew me. Sorry you had to find out about it in a post.


Posted by: Knot at January 7, 2009 9:28 AM

Yep, I have been sending "Holly-Day" Newsletters (bwahahaha) for several years now. One has to be careful not to put family and friends into an over-sharing-coma, but I THINK I have it down to an art. I think.

And yes, spell check people. It's not hard!

Posted by: Holly at January 7, 2009 9:58 AM

This made me snort. really loudly. now I am contemplating composing my own hideous christmas letter to send out in all my cards next year and see if anyone says anything.

Posted by: jeanne at January 7, 2009 12:39 PM

This was, I think, the first year I haven't sent out Christmas letters. I couldn't seem to find the time, and also figured that everyone who really cared was already reading my blog. Not sure if I'll do it again next year or not.

Posted by: Amy at January 7, 2009 4:47 PM

Send me your address and I'll get one off to you in July! :-)

Posted by: Amy at January 8, 2009 12:14 AM

We send out letters with the cards and I hope it doesn't die, I really enjoy reading them. Yes, blogs are nice (I think Facebook and Myspace are ridiculous), but there's just something about getting a personalised letter in the mail and all that that I like and would miss.

Posted by: Dianna at January 9, 2009 8:12 PM