Everyone has an opinion of these iconic fixtures of Christmas. When I was younger, they had a negative reputation, but I never saw them that way. What am I talking about? The Christmas newsletter.
Most of us have memories of families who would create a story so fantastic that their lives glowed brighter than the sun. Some of us have remembrances of tragic letters filled with negatives that left a sour taste in our mouths for days. However, I feel that these extreme correspondences are the outliers. The vast majority of Christmas newsletters are vehicles of connection. They join us with a relative or friend and keep us abreast of the essential milestones in their lives.
Take a person’s Facebook posts and combine them with the posts of other members of their immediate family. Remove all of the junk, the reposts, the cartoons, and the lame jokes. Get rid of the majority of the selfies, and add order and cohesion to the storyline. Then condense all of that information into one or two typed pages. If you are successful, you have created a Christmas newsletter. An amazing document.
Julie’s family has farmers, and their newsletters would educate me about farm life. I always looked forward to reading about their trials and triumphs. Newsletters allowed me to keep up with my college friends. They provided a summary of missed information from those for whom I had more regular content. Newsletter gave me a window into some of my cousin’s lives, individuals with whom I only connected once a year.
Those who send newsletters adopt their own styles. I have received half-sheets of copy paper roughly typed and without adornment. I have also gotten elaborate stories carefully margined onto fancy bordered linen. Every newsletter has its own charm and purpose.
A newsletter shows effort on the sender’s level and provides a level of intimacy with the receiver. This is in contrast with those who only send a signed card. The only information that such an offering gives me is that a person can still sign and stamp.
I have been writing a Christmas newsletter for around 30 years. My initial interest in creating one had more to do with computers than it did with communications. I was fascinated with the ability to do desktop publishing, and I was in the practice of creating brochures and other items for my medical group, Genesis Clinical Services. Initially, the Christmas newsletter was an extension of that interest. For me, it was the perfect “modern” vehicle to connect with those with whom I wanted to stay in touch but was remiss.
I always structured my newsletter with three main categories. Naturally, there would be news of the year. This was standard newsletter fare. Highlights, trips, illnesses, successes, and failures. I wanted the story to be readable and engaging instead of a bulleted list of pros and cons. I always included at least one family photo. Lastly, I would provide a recipe that my family made and enjoyed. This last part was a way to share something of value with my friends and family. Think of the recipes as e-cookies or an e-casserole. In my Eastern European tradition, food is love.
Over the years, I have made many equipment purchases for the Christmas newsletter. I bought my first laser printer and my first color laser printer specifically to produce a better product. My first home scanner was bought to scan photos for the newsletter, as was my first-ever digital camera, a $750 Kodak model that could record a photo in VGA resolution (a tiny 0.3 megapixels). That mid-1990s camera catapulted me into the world of digital photography, a passion that continues to this very day.
Over the years, the Christmas correspondence scene has changed, or at least it has changed for our household. Every year we get fewer cards and even fewer newsletters. The majority of cards that we receive arrive after we send out our newsletter. I have never been sure if the sender’s lateness was due to procrastination or social reciprocation. In other words, they sent us a card because we sent them one.
For years I have asked myself if I wanted to continue the practice of sending out 80-90 newsletters at Christmas. The cost has been a consideration since I have professionally printed them for the last few years. Time is also a factor, as every newsletter requires many individual steps. I have to chronicle the yearly events of 5 people in less than two pages, come up with a recipe, and find (or take) a photo or two. I have to coordinate this information with Julie, who also serves as my chief proofreader. Despite all efforts, I usually find a typo in my final product-not surprising as I have dyslexia, but embarrassing none-the-less.
The creation of the Christmas newsletter has remained important to me, but not for the obvious reasons. The newsletter has become a summary of my family’s history, and a copy goes into our Christmas book. This is the most important reason why I will continue to write the newsletter. It is the same reason why I write this blog. I want those who come after me to know me as a real person, not just a faded image on an ink-jet printed photo. I want the generations that follow mine to understand our family and see its members as individuals who had real lives. So often, I look at an old family photograph and ask, “What was this person really like? What did they have a passion for? What made them angry? What made them happy? How am I like them? How am I different?” A picture can be worth a thousand words if properly executed. However, most snapshots provide only the smallest window into the past.
It has become less relevant to send a physical copy of the newsletter over the last few years. I can publish it on Facebook or email it instead. Yes, there are a few folks where those types of communications are not possible, but in most cases, it is clear that they have little interest in catching up with the Kunas of Kunaland.
This year I finally cut the cord with snail mail. I wrote and formatted the letter and posted it on Facebook, and sent a few select emails. This simplification was a relief. I didn’t have to go to Staples, or get confused with how to mail-merge labels, or coerce my kids into stuffing and stamping envelopes. Those friends who want to catch up on our lives can; those who would prefer to scan past the post are welcome to do that too. I’ll print up a couple copies for our Christmas book and a few for Julie to send to specific people. My plan is to continue my newsletter writing into the future, but gone are the days of stamp and stuff.
I don’t see this year as the end of an era; I see it as the beginning of something new. Times change, and it is OK to change with them.
Merry Christmas to you. Peace on earth, goodwill to all.