The disappearing Christmas letter
I recently came across a story talking about the demise of the holiday letter and that many families are giving up on the ritual of writing a letter. Bah, humbug! Say it isn’t true, please.
One of my Christmas gifts to family and friends over the years has been sending out a Christmas letter. As I noted in my Christmas letter this year, my gift appears to be something that seems to be disappearing as the world of social media keeps expanding.
It seems so many people are hung up on “look at how many likes I have on Facebook, I must be really popular.” It really makes me bristle when I run into local business leaders who have the same mentality. They rationalize that they don’t need to do print advertising because they have so many likes on Facebook. While that may be true, I really question where are all those people from. If they’re spread out across the country, what good are they going to do for their local business? I’ll save my thoughts on this subject for another time.
Back to the real purpose of this week’s column—the holiday letter. The essence of the story I read about the disappearing letter was that Christmas letters are “a dying tradition.” The rise of Facebook, Instagram and Snapshot has sounded the death knell for Christmas letters.
The response given for the rapid decline of letters is, not surprisingly, “too busy.” People also feel social media makes a holiday letter redundant.
My family has produced a Christmas letter for many years. According to my count, I have sent out a holiday letter since 1994. I feel it’s a good way to connect with those family members of cousins, uncles, aunts and others that you don’t come across during the year.
I enjoy hovering over the computer, pulling together the elements for the annual family Christmas letter. I usually try to pick some sort of theme for the letter. Some of them over the years have been letter to the editor, 911 transcript, Top 10 of the year, Hot Pursuit column, the 12 days of holiday cheer, Baby Stork report, cable TV script, police report, district court trial, All Points Bulletin, among many others. This year’s, as you’ve probably guessed, focused on the disappearing holiday letter.
Ann Burnett, communications professor at North Dakota State University, said there are fewer holiday letters and the ones that go out are shorter. Nobody under age 40 writes them anymore, she says.
The holiday letters gained widespread popularity with the advent of copying machines, which made it easy to insert a Xeroxed letter into every Christmas card, rather than scribbling personal notes.
The story referenced Lori Williamson, outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Historical Society. “This keeps me up at night,” she admitted. “What will historians of the future look at that will tell them about our time? People don’t write letters or keep diaries, and what replaces it is ephemeral.”
The Historical Society keeps holiday letters in its collection, which are treasured for their unique perspective on the times when they were composed.
“Christmas letters are primary-source documents, a direct line to the past with no filter between you and the person talking,” Williamson pointed out. “You hear their voice, you learn about their lived experience. People studying genealogy have names and dates, but documents like this give you the rich family stories.”
Despite the apparent decline of the holiday letter, I plan to continue producing one as long as I can. It’s my hope that the letter will help strengthen family bonds, especially the links among the younger members.
I also hope more families will consider writing letters. I don’t think they realize how much fun it is to share the pride you have in your family.
Won’t you help by going in hot pursuit of keeping the holiday letter from disappearing?