Writing the dreaded annual Christmas letter, then and now

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I gave up sending Christmas cards en masse several years ago. To keep up with the times, we transitioned into doing an annual Christmas letter instead.

We thought a personal synopsis more appropriate to keep friends apprized of what was happening in our family, and those of our adult children. Plus we saved the expense of the store-bought cards.

marianstambaughbybrucestambaugh

The late Marian Stambaugh.

With electronic communication now socially acceptable, most of our letters are sent via email to the chagrin of the U.S. Postal Service. Whenever I begin our annual letter, nostalgia appears like Marley’s ghost. Advent days long-passed flash before me.

I have fond memories of the Christmas cards our family received from friends and relatives, some near, some far. After she had opened the cards and read them, our kind mother would allow us kids to tape them to the inside of the wooden front door of the home where I grew up in suburban Canton, Ohio.

Some years Mom would cover the door with colorful paper wrapping, creating a festive background to the many season’s greetings we had posted. Mom taught us to apply the various sized and beautifully illustrated cards in an attractive, creative pattern.
Both hand-written and typed letters of greetings from friends and relatives who lived hundreds, even thousands of miles away were tucked into some of the cards. It was the way to communicate back then.

I think Mom had a higher purpose for the festooned door beyond being a welcoming holiday decoration. For our modest middle-class family, the patchwork of cards served as a symbol of how rich we really were, not in monetary wealth, but in valued, enduring relationships.

adventcandlesbybrucestambaugh

Advent candles.

Typical of many post-World War II families, Dad worked, first a blue-collar job, then a white-collar one. Mom efficiently ran the household on Dad’s meager income, and nurtured her five energetic darlings.

Our family sent out a host of our own Christmas cards. Our ever-thrifty mother would purchase the greeting cards during the post-Christmas sales of the previous year.

Mom addressed the envelopes with her easy, flowing handwriting while some of us kids helped seal and stamp the cards. I sweet-talked my younger siblings into licking that horrible tasting glue on the back of the postage stamps. I hope they’ve forgotten that.

That was a long time ago. Technology and progress, always a subjective word, have changed our lives forever.

Each year I enjoy authoring the one-page summary of the year’s top family happenings, though a couple of years ago I forgot to mention our 40th wedding anniversary. My wife is the letter’s chief editor, so all was forgiven.

I try to make the annual accounting as lighthearted and informative as possible. In recent years, when the aged bodies of parents, aunts and uncles have breathed their last, the letters tended to be more subdued.

I used to simply sit down and write the highlights from memory. Afterwards, I would double-check the calendar that chronicled

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Christmas wreath.

all of our appointments, meetings, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations and other notable events.

Given my previous major omission, I now scour the calendar before I begin to write. Only instead of the daily ledger with scenic pictures, I click on my laptop’s calendar icon to scroll through the year month by month.

It’s time to write our family’s annual letter. It might make people laugh. It might make them cry. But I sincerely doubt it will end up on anyone’s front door.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, column, family, history, holiday decorations, holidays, news, Ohio, photography, writing

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