christmas letter

Among the chief smells of the holiday season, warm, crackling spices folded into baking, roasting and soups rise to mind. But next to a fresh Christmas tree and my dad’s crockpot apple cider, I also think of scotch tape.

Scotch tape forms the Tetris scaffolding of names and faces we love on my family’s fridge, the right side covered in holiday cards of names and faces we love — and some I don’t know. Many of the kids I’ve seen grow up over the years I’ve only seen through glossy photo collages sent by their parents, friends of my parents from grad school and old jobs and churches. But we still stick the pictures on our fridge and decorate it with almost as much diligence as our tree.

December means an influx of mail and a ticking clock to send out our own.

I started writing our family’s letter a few years ago when I was still in college. I think it was out of trying to relieve some of my mom’s stress but now, as our house’s editor-in-chief, I’m often the cause of her stress and on the verge of being fired. Still, it is a unique way I get to contribute to our family’s holiday traditions and to our family in general.

I know which holiday letters are my favorites to anticipate reading: the one from the family of three who always hide an Easter egg prank in their brief update; the long, hilarious letter from the family of five kids, always written by their dad; and the red and gold cards my mom receives handwritten from cousins in Hong Kong. I can’t read those.

But since usually it’s a mom or dad issuing the annual statement of who’s at what college and who is what-and-a-half years old, it’s a fun honor to be the herald saying, “My brother is now at this college and I am now what-and-a-half years old.”

My family has always valued long friendships, but I don’t think I’ve gotten to appreciate that value as more than normal until now. Here in my early twenties, this is probably the first time I get a chance to do so, with more friendships in my life having the better portion of my life under their belts.

People look at me weird, in a good way, when I bring up that I’m going to see my kindergarten best friend. There’s a sibling/cousin sort of comfort that comes from returning to an old church or group where things have changed; it means a new chance to more truly and personally know people I’ve known my whole life.

I didn’t realize how unique it could be to get to share in the successes, the victories and also the sorrows and times filled with waiting with so many families for decades. I won’t be stranded relationships-wise if I don’t write and send our family’s Christmas letter, but it’s more than an annual report. It’s a continual ping in the midst of changing tides, a consistent “I’m here” with a stamp in a time of text read receipts.

I didn’t realize how unique it could be to get to share in the successes, the victories and also the sorrows and times filled with waiting with so many families for decades.

My favorite holiday tradition is really just that it’s a season meant to be unlike any else, a time to give thanks reflecting on the past and to resolve what we want for the future. As I think about how to start my own family someday, I don’t think much about who will write the letter or whose side of that family we’ll visit on Christmas Eve and Day.

But I do think about how I want to add to my family in the present, living at home and beginning my career, and that means writing a letter.

Do you or your family write an annual holiday letter? What are your feelings about receiving one?

Images via Amanda Nolan Booker



  1. I’m certain I would be delighted to read one of your holiday letters. I have a good feeling that your holiday letters are unique, rather than a flat recitation of the year’s events in calendar order. I have two dear friends who pen the most rollicking, entertaining and loving annual family Christmas letters. I’ve saved several of them over the years and find great fun in re-reading them each year. A few years ago, we began receiving Christmas-themed, large postcard-like family photographs from friends and some family members with bullet-pointed “highlights of the year” printed on the back and not so much as a signature to be found. The stark envelopes have pre-printed mailing labels and pre-printed return address labels, like so much of the commercial mail we receive. Each year, the number of these greetings sent to us increases by two or three. I find them absolutely spiritless and worse than the impersonal and most boring family Christmas letters of old. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned in my thoughts about yuletide communications, if I am, then so be it. For me, some things simply cannot be compromised. Now, about your family Christmas letter; would it be possible to add just one more to your mailing list? I would love to read and enjoy it!

    1. Thank you Judith! Those photo cards with a pre-printed generic message are so impersonal. Though I feel I don’t have enough to say yet to necessitate a full-length letter (it’s just me, my husband and a cat), I always pen a personal message in every holiday card I send and I love reading the messages from those friends and family that do the same.

      1. Adrienne, that makes total sense. Haha I scrolled seeing many friends of Facebook posting, “Nope, not grown up enough to send out Christmas cards yet sorry!” I think the really lovely gesture you’re creating from your little family must mean a lot to every recipient!

    2. Judith, thank you for reading! I agree that just the slightest handmade mark can feel so much more personal than a short list of bullets. Ironically with a family loss this winter I didn’t manage to write a letter for 2016! It is a shame. This was one of the most kind comments I’ve read. Thank you 🙂

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