How to read — and write — the Christmas letter

In early November, my family usually receives its first Christmas letters; number one arrives with news from St. Albert, Canada. We met these folks on a river cruise in Portugal.

The second greeting comes from Cocoa Beach, Fla., a card from my former principal and colleague at Cotopaxi Academy. For 30 years the message has not changed: “All good, traveling much, Happy New Year!” I’m thinking, “save the postage!”

Just yesterday, I received number three, Shutterfly with pictures from a dude ranch and the message, “Our hearts are in Colorado, but we are living in Jerusalem.” Say what?

I do look forward to these yearly updates, handwritten or typed. I scrutinize the Costco printed photos for sagging facelift, tightened smile, lipstick creep, eyes hidden by bifocals, grey-root spread or trendy jacket hiding plumpness. I easily identify with each; it’s an age thing.

It is fine to brag about children and grandchildren — three-quarters truth, one-quarter embellishment is acceptable. Grandson Herman was awarded MVP on his college water polo team; Alice joined the Cub Scouts, she looks adorable in blue as the Brownie brown never matched her eyes; Princess was appointed president of her class and given an office beside the headmaster; Alfred’s grades were so high they extended beyond the report card with his academic overloads; Suzie introduced deep sea fishing to the PE curriculum; Lucy Lee maintained the highest grades and was inducted into the elementary excellence chapter; her twin brother was given a trophy, but was so distressed he required medication. Our senior was accepted at a multitude of colleges and universities, local and abroad; she is taking a year to travel and decide.

In all writing avoid loose ends: We rebuilt after the fire; Buster and I won the lawsuit; the accident was not my fault; weekend jail time was the pits; my new boyfriend plays professional soccer; Homer’s mood swings are controlled with pills; Aunt Effie recovered from the head injury.

In addition, beware of mission drift: Remember Aunt Mildred? She made her famous cheese pie soufflé for every occasion and when sharing the recipe, one crucial instruction is missing. “Dry out the THIN bread, remove CRUST, BUTTER both sides then CUBE bread.” My first attempt failed miserably and became a joke at our monthly dining group, six couples, formal attire, sterling silver and Spode china on linen with calligraphy menu. Slices of layered Wonder bread do not rise. Auntie M is presently in a group home.

It is certainly acceptable to write about travels, beach home, winter condos and mountain retreats, but not to the extent of making your readers view their lives as miserable. My intention is to keep my Christmas missive to one page. After photos are browsed and news is skimmed, my annual efforts are dropped in the recycle.

Meanwhile, grace and peace be with you in abundance.

Knowles is a resident of James City County.

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