Letter from Felixstowe: The Dreaded Christmas Letter, Part 1 BC (Before Clive)

reading a card

I loved reading the treasure trove of family Christmas letters my mother received every December when I was growing up.

Through page after page, penned or typewritten in all manner of style and voice – often accompanied by a separate photograph — I learned about other families and other places far from Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. I watched the children of my mother’s college friends grow up, too, and though I never met most of them in person, I felt like I knew them.

Now that I think of it, my enjoyment of those annual holiday missives seems consistent with my lifelong love of reading first-person essays, memoir, letter and diary collections, and books in letter-format.

There always have been plenty of jokes and spoofs and rolling of the eyes about these letters. Too much ‘little Johnny won another award and our family is perfect’ blather. Too impersonal. Too impolite.

At the other end of the spectrum were cards with no personal greeting or message (and worst of all, those in which the senders couldn’t be bothered to sign so had their own names printed inside). That, my mother taught me, was impolite.

Until my early 30s, in the now-dark ages when snail mail and phone calls were our primary means of communication,  I sent my holiday cards with personal greetings and messages to family and friends. Despite long work hours, I enjoyed the process and made time for it, albeit often on the final weekend before Christmas. After I married my first husband, Gary, I continued to do our family card and we started including a photo each year.

desk and cards

Somehow I managed to continue this approach until our son was three years old. Life became busier each year, I noticed I was writing much the same message on each card, and finally I threw up my hands in defeat. I sat down at our primitive word processor and typed my first family Christmas letter. Gary suggested a few changes, we bought pale green printer paper, and lo and behold, a beautiful stack of dot-matrix letters with everything I wanted to say sat neatly on my desk.

Like my mother before me, I still wrote a personal message on each card. But what a momentous and wonderful change it was, then to simply fold the pale green paper into a square, add the photograph, and insert them inside the card, bundling everything together in a tidy little package for the post.

I noticed over the years that many of my contemporaries, especially those with young children, also decided / resorted to annual letters. With rare exception, I loved them. I don’t know if anyone out there agrees with me? I still love them.

Nowadays, many Christmas letters contain multiple photos embedded within the text of the letter. Snail-mailing separate photos is an outdated practice, except for the ones I send my 90 year-old mother. Today’s prevalence of social media makes it easier to keep in touch year-round, but not everyone is on social media.

I always found the process of writing and finalising the annual Christmas letter fairly straightforward. Then I met Clive and began living with a Brit. I had no idea this tradition would undergo a seismic shift with a new and controversial dimension.

Stay tuned for next week: The Dreaded Christmas Letter, Part 2 AC (After Clive): Separated by a Common Language, or Maybe Just a Comma.

Tomahtoh Tamaydoh

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

4 Responses

  1. Times have changed, haven’t they? I don’t send cards any more because it’s just too expensive between the cost of the cards and postage. Except for the 90-something grandma.

    I’m wondering what the huge difference can be, after Clive? Can’t wait to find out!


  2. Hello Karin! Yes, the postage is another factor especially with so many families spread out nationally & globally these days! I’m sure your grandma enjoys your photos 🙂

    Cheers and happy holidays.

  3. IHi Carolyn, times have certainly changed and as the family gets bigger and bigger , I have cut back on a lot of things, I still do send cards, but even that list is getting smaller and smaller . The grandchildren’s parents send photos to me , other family and my mum , so I am free from that at least. So expensive. I know cost should be irrelevant but it all adds up. Yes Like Karin I am very interested to know what the difference is , after Clive . Cannot wait to find out . Merry Christmas to you both and a very happy new year. Anne xx

    ps I have never done an annual letter , that seems like a very long job , I know my family in other countries did them and even a friend in Norfolk still does them.. I am sure everyone loved them xx

  4. Thanks Anne and happy Christmas to you and your family!

    We still send some snail mail cards (with the letter) but I mostly use email for the letter — times keep changing, that’s for sure 🙂


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