In defense of the holiday letter

by Kristen DeLap

One of the reasons I love the holidays is because people send more mail. Everyone loves when real mail arrives in their mailbox - it's an almost universal feeling. To know that a few days (weeks) ago, someone was thinking of you, took the time to document it, and troubled to send it your way. That is effort.

But it is equally as gratifying to send mail. To think of someone, choose some stationary or card you think they'll enjoy, write a sentiment you want to share, seal it up, and drop it in the box with anticipation of when the receiver opens it. That is intention.

Which brings me to my defense of the holiday letter, which has dropped unceremoniously out of fashion. The holiday letter takes a bit of effort, for sure, but one could argue no more effort than arranging family photos and ordering cards from any of the glossy services that have tricked us into thinking that is what holiday correspondence should be. More than effort, a holiday letter takes a bit of reflection. The writer must pause and evaluate their year, sift through the mundane and the extraordinary, and make decisions about what to share. In this world of social media where there is little visual hierarchy between a glamour shot of a happy hour cocktail and a celebratory birth announcement, it is nice to have a bit more curation. The author of the letter gets to emphasize their preference of topic or event, painting things as rosy or as realistic as they prefer.

And further, holiday letters reach those without social media profiles (or those who don't exercise their ability to obsessively check all platforms daily). The USPS famously will deliver a letter anywhere, whether the receiver wants it or not.

So every year I look forward to crafting our holiday correspondence. Some years it is a long paragraph, some years it is a page. This year it is in the style of a newsletter with some bullet points and sidebars. We usually incorporate multiple photos - the candid type, not the professional, I'm afraid. But Todd and I sit down and do it together. We discuss what was meaningful about our year, in our individual lives and as a family. This year even Søren weighed in a bit on what to include. It's a great time to reflect, before the business of the holidays sweeps us away to the beginning of the next year.

The letter for me doesn't end inside the envelope. I try to find some fun vintage postage and customize it based on the recipient. My farmer father gets the stamps with the snow-covered red barns; and my active brother gets the Olympic skiing stamps; the christmas toy ones to a family with young kids, and those young at heart. This attention to postage is certainly above and beyond (though there was a time that stamps printed with a custom photo were somewhat common), but I enjoy it.

And, these letters are a great historical reference. I keep a stack of one letter from every year in the box with our stockings. Looking back at years past shows us how far we've come, and reinforces our traditions.

I know some families feel it is wasteful, so much paper used and the expense of it all. But I, perhaps naively, only think it is wasteful if it isn't meaningful. And for me, I still find meaning, in both sending and receiving this bit of traditional correspondence.