Annual Holiday Season Letters

By Iris Winston

Should you or shouldn’t you? The question of whether or not to write an annual update to distant friends comes up every year as you prepare to send out cheery greeting cards for the holiday season.

You want to continue the tradition and stay in touch, even if it’s rarely more than a card once a year. But is there much point in a card that has nothing more than your signature and nothing about key events over the time that has passed since the last contact?  Certainly, a card tells the recipients you are still on the right side of the turf and you are thinking of them enough to wish them well over the holidays. But, if that’s all and you are never in contact during the rest of the year, has the connection been stretched too thin?

If you want to keep the connection alive, it makes sense to add more information by including a letter bearing all the news that’s fit to print, providing you ensure it involves a personalized section for each person you are contacting. This is one of the occasions when computers really come into their own.

However, if there has been no interaction for a year, will former neighbours and friends on the other side of the country care that your son John has been promoted or your granddaughter Sharon has just won a big university scholarship?  Will they even know who cousin Jane is? And does emphasizing all the great achievements of family members over the last few months sound like bragging? It could also be hurtful, if any of the recipients are mid-crisis and have no good news to share with you. And how would you know if those distant folks had a major problem when you haven’t been in recent contact?

If you decide to write the annual letter anyway, you might consider balancing all the positive information with some of the less savoury events that your family has endured. But you probably would be ashamed to mention the black sheep of the family who is likely to land up in jail after another illegal skirmish or too worried about a beloved aunt who is nearing the end of her life to include more difficult subjects that don’t fit the mood of the season.

The holiday letter dilemma begins to resolve itself as the years pass. There is certainly no need for missives of this type to close friends because you stay in regular touch all year and they know and care about all that is happening in your life as you know and care about the details of their lives. Then there are the folks on the very edge of contact who did not send you their new address after their most recent move or who haven’t replied to cards or letters for some time. They disappear from the roster quite naturally The ease of electronic communication also makes quick notes fast and simple, so the need for snail-mail holiday letters diminishes further, particularly among the younger generation who rarely use paper communication it seems.

Perhaps the answer is that holiday letters, which long passed their prime, are now outdated. If it is unlikely that you will ever see a particular individual again, or worse, if it really doesn’t matter to you whether there is any chance you will meet some time in the future, then how about one more year of sending a card but not enclosing a letter with further news? If the person wants to know more, then you are likely to hear about it. If you don’t hear, then silence is not just golden, it is tacit consent that this chapter has closed for both of you,

I still find it hard to accept the demise of any connections, even when they have faded naturally into next to nothing. Therefore, I’ll probably gear up for one more year of writing the ubiquitous holiday letter. And, even as I do it, I will be asking myself whether I am writing to friends or strangers.