Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Happy Mailbox

I know some people hate them. Some people think they’re just a brag fest or a waste of time and paper. Some people make fun of them and ridicule anyone who sends one. As for me, personally I love them. It’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday season - the Christmas newsletter.

When I was a kid, the mailbox was full of letters and pictures of people I didn’t know. With every opened envelope my mom would tell a story, who these people were and why they were important to our family. The stories became familiar as I heard them repeated year after year. Mrs. Obolander, who was our elderly neighbor when I was an infant. Her standard story went something like, “and every year she would invite your big sisters over to her house to decorate Easter eggs!” Then there were Great Aunt Joyce and Great Uncle George, who sent amazing pictures from their cabin in Colorado. Although we met them only once in my childhood, they meant the world to my mother and their card was displayed front and center each year.

When Jeff and I were newlyweds our Christmas card list was minimal. A large box of brightly colored cards from Hallmark could do the trick. We never tucked a letter in the envelope and a photo was completely out of the question. There just wasn’t that much going on to tell about. Then along came the babies.

With Jeff’s move from grad school to employment, we changed addresses often. There was a lot to tell when December rolled around and the question wasn’t whether we should include a picture or not, but which one was the absolute best. Every year I considered taking a break from the full fledged letter, and just sending a card with a picture. But the writer in me couldn’t resist. It was fun to share what we’d been up to all year and the letters themselves kept a yearly record of our life as a young family.

We collected friends with each move and with each state we lived in our list expanded. There are a handful of college friends we plan to never let go of. A few neighbors from each of our past homes are still important to us. Our kids are blessed with more than two sets of grandparents, with the addition of honorary grandparents we have found in each place we’ve lived. The list can seem overwhelming until I think about paring it down.

Each address I write on an envelope makes me think of someone I love. Most send us cards and pictures of their families and I can’t imagine losing touch with them. For most of us life is on fast forward. I don’t get to call them or even email them as much as I’d like, and the holiday letters are my one big indulgence, to feel in touch with the people I love. To stop sending our letter means risking their cards not arriving in my box each year.

I do have friends who decided to only do online ‘cards’ this year. One friend only sent holiday greetings to friends who were signed up on facebook. I don’t think I could ever get to that point. Some of the most important people on my list don’t even own computers. Plus, I love opening my mailbox each day in December, thinking there might be a new card, letter, or if I’m really lucky, picture of someone I love and care about. And because I love getting them in the mail, I keep sending them that way.

Once, when we were cleaning out my dad’s house, we found a file of our family’s old Christmas letters. They fascinated me as I read them with a parent’s eyes for the first time. Each paragraph reminded me of what stage of life my family was in and what activities my siblings and I were involved in. To have a year in my childhood recapped was fun. It just further instilled in me the need to continue our traditional letter.

Someday, when I wake up to a quiet house and miss my precious offspring, who are all grown up and moved out, I will spend my time collecting the letters I have written every year and put them in a book for my children. If I’m really organized maybe I can even find the pictures we sent every year. I will bind them all together and present them to my children. They will be in the process of building their own lives but I think they might enjoy reading a yearly update of their growing up years. By then they will realize that life changes quickly.

Maybe, just maybe, remembering the years and years of love and adventure they had for the short time they shared their lives with me and their dad will give them a feeling of stability to build on for the rest of their lives.

So hats off to all of you out there who still believe in a good Christmas card letter and enjoy a yearly picture of your friend’s families. I suspect I am not the only one in this club. When others scoff and make jokes, we quietly sit back and smile.

Because sometimes just finding a brightly colored envelope in the mailbox that didn’t come from a credit card company is all it takes to make it feel like Christmas.

1 comment:

Beth Kephart said...

This was the first year I ever added a Christmas letter to our homemade card. I thought a lot about it, finally decided to do it, didn't realize (though I later did discover) that this is something some people can, well, not exactly love receiving.

But I know how much I love to know how my friends are. And letters do make a difference.