I’ve enjoyed the holidays. The food is excellent in our house. We play charades and have a talent show. The presents are the right amount. This time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is quiet. We’re all happy that none of us is on a plane this year. Who can complain about a holiday in which you’re supposed to drag a tree into the house and decorate it? And you get Christmas letters.
Lots of grumpy people complain about Christmas letters. I‘m here to give you another point of view. So what if people brag about their trips, their houses, their successful children and adorable grandchildren? If you can’t brag to your friends and family, who can you brag to?
My favorites are those letters that most reflect their writers. One cousin is literal, going through the year month to month, with their doings in Pennsylvania and on the road. This cousin and her husband stop at every attraction on their travels—historic markers, factory tours, tiny museums. They see everything in detail. They take lots of trips, but are frugal. Once, in a Day’s Inn somewhere in the south, they surreptitiously watched a drug deal take place outside their window. And they wrote about it in their letter.
A friend is gushy and cheerful in her letter, and that’s the way she is in real life. She has suffered from the fall floods in Colorado, but it doesn’t get her down.
We get one letter from a friend from school days that we’ve seen only once or twice since then. But that letter is one I particularly look forward to. He’s a good writer, funny, ironic and leads a different life from us in suburban New Jersey. There was the year he was let go from his New York City law firm because he lost a landmark case. He kept his sense of humor throughout, and we saw what he was made of. Through his letter, I’ve kept up with his comeback as well as the doings of his children and grandchildren as they’ve moved around the world. I have fond feelings for him even though our paths don’t cross except for that one time a year. Because of his letter we could start a conversation from where we left off because I’m up to date.
My friend, the Unitarian minister, writes a letter revealing the good and the bad. She is patient, philosophical, laughing at the surprises, grateful for the good and has the strength for the bad. Her letter shows why I admire her and why she has chosen the right profession.
One memorable letter came from a friend many years ago. Her daughter had gotten pregnant and quit school. The father was nowhere around, which I considered a good thing. Her other kids were also having trouble. She spilled it all out in the letter. Now the daughter has a good job and her baby is a successful 20 year old. Things have turned out better than would have been expected from that devastated letter.
I don’t get a letter from my old boyfriend. Instead I get a card with a printed signature from the business he and his wife own. I have only the barest idea of what he’s up to. We married other people, but I still like him, and so does my husband. I’d like to keep up with him. I send him a letter anyway to make sure he keeps up with me.
The best letters are those that show how people are making decisions, grappling with a problem, or trying to understand something that has happened in their lives. I’d like to get more letters from people telling us the best books they’ve read during the year or how they are dealing with a problem in their community. But I’ll settle for their trips, if that’s what they want to write about.
Me? I write a Christmas letter, but I’ve usually done it every other year. I admire the friends and family members who manage to pull one off annually.
Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.