As I sat down to prepare Christmas cards this year, I had some misgivings. I thought it important to send cards out this year—perhaps more than ever—but the cards themselves gave me pause. Jolly pre-printed words like “merry” and “happy” and wishes for “celebrations” and “holiday traditions” seemed rather out-of-step with this year’s reality.
The 2020 holiday season—including Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, and other celebrations—will be like no other in recent memory. Holidays often mean gatherings of family and friends, but this year many people will be spending the holidays separated or isolated from their loved ones.
Wanting to reach out and connect, I decided this year I would send a letter with each card. Christmas letters are both loved and loathed. Some people view them as boastful recountings of others’ successes, like a string of selfies rendered in prose. Perhaps some of them are, but I’ve never received such a one. Each year we receive a few letters tucked in Christmas cards, and we enjoy reading them—even look forward to them.
Sending Christmas cards has become a somewhat archaic tradition. The time it takes to prepare and send cards—not to mention the rising postage costs—discourages most people. But we still send a few dozen cards out each year.
December marks nine months since I’ve seen most of my immediate family, who live at quite a distance. We’ve been able to keep in touch virtually, but in-person visits are likely still months away. Sending a letter seemed the best substitute to physically touching those I wish we could be closer to.
Not knowing what form my letter would take, I just began writing. With many of our 2020 plans having evaporated, I thought I would be hard pressed to fill one page. In the end, I had difficulty keeping the letter to just two pages.
The intention of the letter was to provide others with a—hopefully—entertaining and informative read. But as I mentally reviewed the events of 2020, I discovered there were many high points and positive events that’d I’d forgotten. Our pandemic-infected memories seem to ignore the days before mid-March, when life was semi-normal. Similarly, we easily overlook the many highlights of the year that happened in spite of—or because of—the pandemic months.
The letter underwent a few drafts until I was satisfied with it. I bought festive paper and printed out as many as I thought we’d need. When we sat down in early December to prepare our Christmas cards, we stuffed the letters in with thirty or so cards.
Perhaps some of the recipients will read them. Maybe the letters will cause them to smile, or to reflect on their own 2020 experiences. Maybe they’ll return the touch with an email or a phone call, or a letter of their own.
Even if the recipients toss the letter in the trash or use it as kindling for the woodstove, the letter still served a purpose. As I wrote it, I was able to relive the best moments of the year, and be amazed by how many there were. As I wrote it, I pictured the letter’s recipients: all the friends and family we haven’t seen for most of the year.
I sent the letter off with best wishes and hope. Best wishes for a better 2021, and hope that soon we will all be able to enjoy the company of our loved ones again.