In Defense of the Holiday Card Letter

Each winter, I spend hours composing the letter to be included with the Christmas cards I send out. I write with my audience in mind – mostly relatives and far-away friends. This year I included things like the Japan and Amsterdam trips, Snowmageddon, the troubles with our HOA, and the various conventions and other events we attended. I include some photos of the two of us and, occasionally, a URL at the bottom (usually for an online photo album). I try to keep it interesting and upbeat. Every year I receive compliments from a few of the recipients, saying how much they enjoyed reading about my life.

Ah, but every year there are also those people who declare their hatred for the Christmas card letter. Not anyone I send to, as far as I know, but around the blogosphere I always come across people who think of those letters as bland, impersonal, and worst of all, nothing but a bunch of bragging.

Maybe my experience is atypical, but I’ve never gotten this impression from any of the Christmas card letters I’ve received. But then, I also might be a different sort of audience. I want to know where you vacationed or how your kid’s soccer team did this year, because I care about what happens in your life. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be exchanging Christmas cards with you. And even if I keep up with you during the year, I really enjoy the big recap, seeing which events you found most worth sharing. I don’t expect you to write it all down by hand just for me.

I admit, I am suspicious of those people who get disgusted by positive Christmas card letters. Do you not want to celebrate your friends’ and family’s triumphs with them? No, no one’s life is 100% perfect, but to me, the end of each year calls for reflecting on what you’re grateful for from the past twelve months. Why would I want to gripe about gaining twenty pounds when I could share my excitement about the new running program I just started?

For me it just comes down to practicality. In the letter, which I type mostly because my handwriting is atrocious, I cover the things I want to tell everybody. In the card, I often don’t have anything more to say than that. I’ve chosen the card based on the sentiment printed inside, so writing an additional “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is kind of pointless. The recipient list is written from scratch every year, and though many of the names are the same from the previous year, there are always a few changes. In short, though people receive a store-bought card and a printed letter, there’s a lot of thought put into the whole process. If I didn’t include the letter, I wouldn’t see much point in sending cards at all. My handwritten notes would have to be composed ahead of time anyway or else each card would be full of scratch-outs. I do my best brainstorming at a keyboard, so if it’s going to be typed anyway I might as well just print it out instead of rewriting it. And I’ll want to tell each person about pretty much the same things, since after all I lived the same year no matter whom I’m writing to. And by that point I might as well just send the same letter to everybody.

So yes, I am a little hurt that there are people who believe that just because something was printed with a computer that there was somehow less effort put into it, or less thought given to the people receiving it. I write my letter because I want to share my life, not because I want to show it off. And I look forward to the letters I get from others, so I can share their lives too. To me, that sort of sharing and connection is the point of sending out all those cards in the first place.

How do you feel about holiday card letters? What do you feel is the purpose of exchanging cards every year?

  1. If a Christmas letter brags, then it’s a braggy Christmas letter. A Christmas letter full of nice/funny news is a nice/funny newsy Christmas letter. I’ve seen a lot of the former, but that doesn’t mean a letter can’t be the latter, like yours. Do the people who don’t like Christmas letters also demand that you make your envelopes from scratch for a personal touch?

    • *laugh* I’m lucky that none of the people I send cards to have ever complained about Christmas letters, but after so many years of reading people complaining in their blogs, I decided I needed to have a good rant. :)

  2. I saw the title of this post come up in my twitter just a little while ago and thought I might go and read it … but I knew that I had to come and read it since just today I got my Christmas card and holiday letter in the mail.

    The letter is fun. It’s well written and I am even mentioned in it (though not by name) and it features a bit of photography that should be credited to me. (Just kidding!) And for those that say it is wrong to type a letter … I for one am thankful that it is typed because I still have not learned to read the “secret code” that is Kate’s handwriting.

    I’m honored that I got one and I hope that I will continue to get them in the future. It’s something that will be added to my scrapbook (the someday that never comes) and something that I will look back on when I remember my friends.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. I’m also a fan of the Christmas letter. I like getting them. I don’t keep in close touch with a lot of the people I exchange cards with, and I enjoy getting the update on their lives. I also like picture Christmas cards because I like to see how families change over the years. A pet peeve of mine is when people only put pictures of their children on the cards. I want to see my friends too!

    I also send a Christmas letter every year, for much the same reason. We have a lot of extended family who would otherwise not get an update on our lives. There’s no way I have the time (or the interest, frankly) in writing a long letter to everyone on my Christmas list. I feel like the Christmas letter is a good compromise.

  4. I like getting your letter each year (it came today), and I’ve thought more than once about doing the same thing myself. I never end up doing it, for one reason or another. I think they’re a great idea, but they depend on the writer’s comfort level. My guess would be that a lot of the people who dislike holiday letters are jealous because they don’t have anything they deem interesting enough to put in the letter, or because they’ve received letters from people who lead what they see as more exciting/successful lives and they feel like they can’t compete. For my part, it’s been mostly an abundant shortage of free time coupled with a tendency to be incredibly forgetful; some years I’ve been lucky that I remembered to send the cards, never mind write a letter!

  5. i send christmas letters too. i receive them. some i am excited to read. others i groan, scan, and trash.

    i think it makes a difference how well you know/like/are in touch with the people sending the letters. if you receive one from your second cousin twice removed, you don’t even LIKE your second cousin twice removed, and the only correspondence you have had for the last ten years has been their letters from previous years, it might not come across as well as one from people you miss and have fun hanging out with when you get together.

    along the lines of ‘bragging’ vs. ‘sharing,’ if the letter contains a litany of “all the new things we bought this year and the cruises we took (including prices but we don’t care about that because of how AMAZING was the cash bonus that so-and-so got). how busy the nanny was this year taking the kids to lessons and practice that you could hardly find time to write this little christmas letter to tell everyone how much you think of them and wish you had more time in your day to think of them…” well, it could be a little annoying. ;)

    yes, i’ve gotten letters almost that bad from people i’m not even related to anymore. i’m just on The List. i probably always will.

  6. I love Christmas letters, because as you said, even if I keep up with the person in question it’s fun to see how they recap the year. The only Christmas cards that bother me are ones that seem to be sent purely to fulfill some abstract obligation, like ones from a certain relative of ours that came without even a handwritten signature – just a stamp of everyone’s names.

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