Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Letters

I dislike re-runs. But occasionally, something rankles me to the point that I have to state my opinion more than once. If I feel that one confrontation with an issue has been insufficient, I may take another swing at it.

Today's re-run concerns "form" Christmas letters. My first "form" letter of the holiday season arrived yesterday. Reading it made me want to run into the street and lay down in front of oncoming traffic.

I had been expecting this particular letter since Thanksgiving. It's always the first to arrive and by far the most unpleasant initiation into the holiday season. What on earth makes people write about every pain, stress, illness or tragedy that they experienced during the past year? Does the writer think that the mishaps we all occasionally encounter are the least bit interesting to others? Seeing an envelope with this couple's return address sticker in the mailbox is enough to send a shiver down my back. Not only is their letter a diatribe on misery, but their letters are always written in the third person. Did they dictate to a secretary?

Let's chat a moment about the form letter idea. It seems that many people send form letters now rather than take the time to write an actual sentence or two. Remember writing? Remember pens? Sure, folks are busy in this silly hustle-bustle world. And it might actually take a minute to shape a few words on the bottom of the card. But somehow the gesture of writing a line shows that the sender actually cares about the recipient.

There have been times when I have typed enclosures to my Christmas cards. But even those letters were personal, including the recipients' names and no two letters were the same. Typing is an easy method of communication and there is a wide variety of attractive holiday printer paper available. But no letter should be intended for wholesale complaining about the injustice of one's life.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about Abraham Lincoln, especially in the shadow of Steven Spielberg's new film "Lincoln." Lincoln was a man who seemed to know his audience, a talent lost on many politicians and celebrities today. He knew when to talk and when to be quiet. At the occasion of the Gettysburg's Address, Lincoln followed orator Edward Everett whose pomposity bored the crowd for nearly two hours. No doubt Everett's listeners tuned out his message long before it ended.

Lincoln then rose and spoke for only a few minutes. There is some debate over precisely the words he chose and at least five various versions of the famous speech exist. But the unanimous consensus appears to be that he "nailed" the speech, carefully selecting each word and making every word count. The result was heartfelt and personal and conveyed to the audience that the president recognized the country's pain resulting from the Civil War.

Reading my first "form" letter yesterday, I couldn't help but roll my eyes and chortle a bit at the flagrant whining and self-pitying. Such is the tone of many of the letters that are sent during this joyous season which, after all, is not about us. Senders of such tedious greetings are missing the point entirely.

Like many folks, I have gathered friends and acquaintances throughout life, most of whom I hear from only at Christmas. That's a result of our mobile culture. Hearing a year-end update should be a pleasant experience. I would rather receive three handwritten lines of personal communication than three pages of self-indulgence.

This year, if you are tempted to send a "form" letter along with a Christmas card, stop and ask yourself these questions:

* Does what I'm writing matter to anyone outside of earshot?
* Is what I'm writing something that I want people to remember once read?
* Does what I'm writing make me sound silly, shallow, petty and selfish?
* Is this how I want people to remember me?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, find a nice, fresh pen that doesn't leave behind blobs of ink. Then write a few light-hearted, warm and personal words such as "Have a great holiday season," "Think of you often and hope you are well," or "Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful 2013."

See? That isn't too difficult. Feel free to use one of these phrases as your own. I won't mind.

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