Christmas Letter

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.

Folks used to correspond regularly with friends and family; perhaps some still do.
Nowadays it's a whole lot easier to dial or fax or text or e-mail or post something on Facebook. The physical act of writing, folding, stamping and posting a letter is becoming as rare as the horse-drawn wagon or the home-cooked meal.

Sure, we send out birthday cards and Mother's Day missives, and the occasional picture postcard, but in our home the only true attempt at formal letter-writing comes at Christmastime.
The annual Christmas form letter, despised by some and cherished by others, is an attempt to summarize a year's living in a handful of witty paragraphs.

Part history and part comedy, there's an art to writing such documents. But we're always out of practice. It's like being called on to sing all of a sudden. Pardon the flats.

There's always news to tell about the kids, of course, whatever their ages. My, how they've grown and, gosh, what trouble they can be. They're developing in ways we never expected and doing worrisome things we find hard to fathom. If we go on and on about them, it's just our hearts getting the better of our minds again.
We need to fill you in on the latest move, of course, or recent job changes. It seems we're forever trying to settle down or make a new start. We've bought and sold, been hired and fired, stopped and started so many projects it's hard to recall what we told you last.

Whatever it was, it's different now.
If we start rambling on about our hopes and dreams for this place, the traveling we expect to do come spring and summer, and the goals we have for shaping up or getting richer, you'll know we're really out of control.
Most often, we reflect on family and friends in our Christmas letter, commenting on how good it is to be together during the holidays and how sad it is to be apart.

With a single computer-generated letter (and maybe a couple handwritten lines) we try to make contact with both old friends we haven't seen in years and day-to-day acquaintances who have already heard our news. We try to bring some up to date while not boring others. We try to be personal for family and somewhat detached with colleagues. We juggle honesty and proper form.
It's a hopeless task, of course. There's no way one letter can speak to everyone the same.
But the details in these pages, like the words to certain songs, are somewhat arbitrary. It's the tune that matters most. And what's critical about the Christmas letter, it seems to me, is realizing how rare a thing it is to have a friendship and how delicate a gift is family.
It's far, far more likely in this vast universe that we never would have met or spoken to one another or shared any interest. And while we're born or married into families, the chances for correspondence are just as limited and precious.

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