Staying in Focus: On Traditions, Old and New

Well, it’s almost that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about the shopping and the cooking and the trimming and the wrapping.  I’m talking about the oft maligned Christmas letter.  Now, I know it’s not a requirement, but somehow a Christmas card with just a hurried signature at the bottom seems out of sync with the intent of the season. You know, reaching out to loved ones, spreading good cheer, peace on earth…

What is most daunting to me about writing my Christmas letter it is finding something interesting to share. Some years there are not a lot changes, and I am challenged to write a paragraph or two.  Other years I walk the fine line between filling the folks in on happenings and sending them into a deep depression.

In the old days of a Currier and Ives Christmas, everyone hitched old Dobbin to the sleigh and went about with bells ringing, and snowflakes falling, greeting one another in person, often dropping off fruitcakes which are still in circulation today. I could get with that except that old Dobbin (or even our little Honda Fit) would be hard pressed to get to New Jersey and New York and Alabama and Minnesota and California – you get the picture. Family and friends are scattered far and wide these days.  And although we can keep in touch with phone calls and Skype and the internet, we seem to have enough trouble just getting together with the neighbors let alone someone living 3000 miles away. So despite our best intentions, it often falls to the Christmas card letter to bear the tidings of good cheer and fill our far away folks in on our happenings.

Now the Christmas letter is not an old tradition.  I think it came along about the time people lost the ability to write legibly, some kind of virus, I guess, and soon the typewriter was followed by word processors, computers, home printers and, wonder of wonders, we could now not only type our letters, but make newsletters with pictures and columns and everything! We can even make our own photo cards provided we have a small fortune put aside for ink cartridges.

Now there is a tendency for the Christmas letter to become a bit, shall I say, competitive? We all believe our children are the best and the brightest but after a little Madison was the youngest person ever to win the Nobel  Peace Prize when her You Tube video went viral.  And, of course, Trevor won the Pulitzer Prize two years in a row and now has a six figure advance for his next book. I just smile and wish them well. And continue to send my letters out to those folks I rarely get to see, Just to let them know we are still here and doing the best we can.

I look at my brood, and although there is not a Nobel Peace Prize or a Pulitzer Prize on our  fireplace mantel, we’ve had our share of triumphs as well as challenges and it is in their meeting the challenges that I am most proud.

One of our aunts lived in Florida.  She would always remark on how much she looked forward to reading our newsletter every year. The older folks remember the time before, when people wrote actual letters with pen and ink .  Sadly, Aunt Mary passed away this year and soon her generation will have passed and with them the traditional Christmas card and the occasional letter will probably pass away as well.  Who needs snail mail when you can zap an animated electronic card instantly to all your Facebook pals with one satisfying click of the enter key? I know, I can use my Kindle and its touch screen to do the job, but those little pretend keys annoy the heck out of me.

Many years ago, I started to include a Christmas poem I had written with my letter.  I have a friend, now living in Texas, who wrote and told me they enjoy the poems, and read them at Christmas dinner as part of their family tradition.

And some of my friends are pretty clever with their letters.  I have a friend who spends much of the year travelling and on the back of her letter last year she had made a word search game of the countries she had visited.

And you know, now that I think of it, in some ways the Christmas letter should not be maligned at all, because it helps us to realize that no matter what the year has brought us, we weathered it together, and when we face a difficult one like this past year was for us, with health concerns, job loss, a death in the family and an impending divorce for my son, Steve, we realize there were lots of bright spots, too . We cruised to Alaska, attended the wedding of a good friend’s daughter, my two nieces both became engaged  and my son, Kevin, and nephew Matt, are close to getting their game ready for submission.  My friend, Linda ,and I went to several great exhibits including the Titanic Exhibit, a Gone With the Wind Exhibit and a beautiful display of Mobile Art at the NC Museum of Art. We had visits from our Poughkeepsie friends and cruise mates, Denise and Geoff, and our Alabama buddies, Kathi and Don as well as the annual Coyle/Seidel family visit .

Maybe, now that I think about it, the Christmas letter should be written to ourselves, a reminder to focus on the positive, look for that silver lining, count those blessings and the rest will fall into place.

Please consider this post my Christmas letter to you.  Take a minute to write one to yourself. Recall the tough times, give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate the good ones, the ones which make life worth living. Perhaps that is what the Christmas letter is all about, Charlie Brown.

In the meantime, we’ll have Dobbins hitched up and be delivering those fruitcakes as soon as it snows!

And the mouse hits the publish key with a satisfying click!


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