This post originally was published Dec. 11, 2018. But since it’s still true, and tis the season, a friendly reminder…
- My husband cautioned this post was a bad idea when I told him what I was writing about. I’d write it, he suggested, and shortly there after we’d get a Christmas letter from someone who would also read the blog, and I could therefore assume I had offended them. Sure enough, less than 24 hours later, my sister called me and over the course of our conversation, told me she was writing a Christmas letter. That’s how these things go! If your Christmas letter is already en route to my mailbox…well, at least you’re in the excellent company of my sister!
- Shoutout to my friend Kim, of the once previously mentioned “Unpopular Opinions with Kim,” which could legitimately be it’s own guest writing segment. Her collaborative comments on this post are noted by pull quotes.
This is not a post about not wanting your Christmas card. I love Christmas cards! It’s always been one of my favorite things open Christmas cards. I love getting real, honest to goodness, paper mail anyway, so I’ve always been enamored by the influx of colorful envelopes and festive postage stamps that flood the mailbox every December. When I moved out and went to college, one of the first things I did upon coming home for the holidays was to sit down with the sleigh shaped basket full of cards that my parents had been sent and rummage through them, looking at glittery winterscapes, travel photos, and family portraits.
Back in the day, before Shutterfly and Snapfish cornered the market on custom printing and pre-designed layouts, there was exceptional variation in the cards sent. My mom used to buy “frame” cards that allowed her to slide a single photo (often hurriedly taken at the previous family get together) in the front while allowing space to write a personal note on the inside of the card. Last year, I got my parents’ card covered corner to corner in selfies she’d taken with my dad. It seems that internet printing companies write pretty standard messages of seasons greetings, and we all now generally accept the sentiment as heartfelt. Still, I like to see what format and design people choose for their cards. Maybe nobody puts as much thought into these selections as I do, but in a world where people can curate every inch of their life, and social media can be used to frame exactly how much of someone’s reality he/she lets us see, I tend to think that Christmas card formats can be revealing. What is so important about your life or family that you’d put it on a document and share it with people who you may only speak to (through the US Postal Service no less) once a year?
The year my husband and I got engaged, we sent our first Christmas card. It was a selfie of us in our costumes on Halloween and it read “Have Your ‘Selfie’ a Merry Little Christmas!” What did that say about us? Well probably something along the lines of: “Look at us! We’re cute and clever and in love! We’re sending our first Christmas card together. We’re really good at this adult thing, but we still take time to have fun and wear costumes on Halloween.” It also probably screamed MILLENNIALS! Though taking a selfie and turning it into a Christmas pun makes us witty!
The year after, we got married, and we chose our best wedding portrait for a long glossy card that read “Married Christmas” in a gold scrolling font across the top. If our card the year before said look at us trying to be mature, our follow-up wedding card said: “Look at us! We are mature! We got really dressed up and did the wedding thing. We both looked hot. Some of you were invited. Some of you weren’t. You’re all being treated to this amazing photo because we look awesome in it!” I wish the statute of limitations on sending a wedding picture on your Christmas card didn’t run out after the year you get married. That was the best picture. It’s been hard to find one to top it in subsequent years.
I will not psycho analyze the entirety of our Christmas card collection, but in general the pattern works like this. The year we went to Italy…Italy was on the card. The year I graduated with my masters…that was on the card. The year we cruised Greece…Greece was on the card. The ultimate irony in all of this was that just about everyone who got a card from us knew these things had happened because they follow some form of my social media, but again, I always feel like choosing a Christmas card photo or design is like distilling your entire year down to the one defining moment or image that represents the whole 12 month bunch. Grandma doesn’t go on my Facebook page, but she’s going to put my Christmas card out through the holidays…so what would grandma want to see!?
This year’s card features a scattered array of travel photos, a selfie from the ‘big hat summer tour’ and a portrait shot from someone else’s wedding. There’s also a picture of us drinking wine in Santorini on the back because…yes! I feel like it gives a very adequate picture of our year. We travelled. We sipped wine. We took selfies. We went to weddings. It all looks very happy and festive, and it was a happy and festive year. And you get all that from looking at a handful of pictures, and reading the small personalized note we added to the back because a well-chosen picture is worth a thousand words.
You know what else is worth a thousand words and far less festive and cheery? A Christmas letter. I can’t remember when the Christmas letter became popular. I feel as if when I think back to that magical time of rifling through my parents Christmas cards, there were never any Christmas letters in the basket. Maybe my parents didn’t make friends with the kind of people who sent Christmas letters. This seems like a good criteria for choosing whether or not to befriend someone. Maybe they’re blocked out from my memories because I never took the time to read them.
If you’re a person who send a Christmas letter, I’m not really here to rag on you. I’m sure you have your motivations for writing one. My sister, for example, is writing hers to share news with family and friends that wouldn’t otherwise be posted to social media or be readily discussed at casual get togethers. That seems legit. Generally speaking, however, we should all agree to let this Christmas tradition go by the wayside, because most of us overshare enough (an ironic statement from someone who keeps a blog I know!), and we don’t need another way to do it!
It’s easy to say these are a thing of the past with how much we communicate these days with texting, FaceTime, and social media. It’s just not necessary to send out your journal entry that sums up your year. Most of us know everything you’ve said, done, thought, and ate from social media. I saw that trip you went on. I’ve seen 50 million photos of your kids. I’ve read your political rants. I don’t know know what else you could possibly have to tell me.
If you had an amazing year, I am happy for you. If you won the lottery, got a new job, bought a house, had a baby, travelled the world, got an amazing car, met your hero, or crossed some major milestone off your bucket list, congratulations. And I mean that whole heartedly. But I don’t want to read about it in your Christmas letter. There are 101 ways that I might congratulate people in real life if I know something amazing happened to them. I might send flowers. I might write a card. I might run over to their house with a bottle of champagne. I might post 100 comments and likes on their social media. I might kudos them on this blog. If I’m in your life to the point that you’d send me a Christmas card, I’d hope to also be in your life to the point that if something amazing has happened to you, I’d find out about it and celebrate it with you before your Christmas letter showed up.
Similarly, if you lost a job, lost a house, got sick, went broke, dropped out of school, suffered injury, or faced some other hardship or misfortune, I sympathize with you. And again, I mean that wholeheartedly. But don’t wait until December to unload your burdens in my mailbox. I’d be happy to send you a note, say a prayer, donate to a cause, stop in for a visit, etc. anytime throughout the year. I may have even done that for you at the time it happened. So I don’t need the recap this December that last March you broke your leg and it still gets a little achy when the humidity is up and a storm is coming….
There’s something else awkward about many Christmas letters. People care to share news that isn’t their news to share. My parents haven’t written a letter in quite some time, so here I defer to Kim who is often the subject of her family’s Christmas letters.
I don’t care to read letters that have facts about me include. “Kim is still working at XXXXXXXX as an MRI tech.” Thanks Grandma, I’m sure all your friends and neighbors who have never met me are going to be thrilled about the update. I also don’t want to feel like I’m in a competition with siblings, or that our annual activities are being compared, or worse manipulated, to fit your narrative. For example, last year some family members travelled to Europe. It was a big piece of the letter. It was also mentioned in passing that I’d done some small travels as well. I can tell you for a fact we didn’t go anywhere last year, but it sounds weird to say, “Kim stayed home with the cats!”
I might sound like a Scrooge, but can’t we admit that most of us are so entangled through social media that the Christmas letter is really just a recapped version of our Facebook accounts? When was the last time you actually read a Christmas letter and thought, “Wow! I had no idea that so-and-so did such-and-such!”
If you write a Christmas letter, consider your motivation. Is it a humble brag and you want everyone to be amazed by your good fortune (or the fortune of others you can talk about!)? Are you looking for sympathy and the holidays are a good time to pull on the heart-strings? If it’s genuinely because you’ve fallen out of touch with people you care about, then consider picking up the phone (or text…or Facebook messenger) and actually reconnecting with someone. But can we agree that most letters are the worst, and if you want me to be involved in your life through the ups and the downs, than please let me be involved in your life through the ups and downs throughout the year, and not just through your end of the year recap.
Some of you are sitting there thinking, “Bah Humbug!”
Some of you are sitting there thinking, “AMEN!”
As long as you’re not thinking of sending me your Christmas letter, we’re all on the same page.