Monday, December 20, 2010

The Dreaded Form Letter

With half the family battling the flu, my Christmas present shopping excursions came to a screeching halt last week.  From my sick bed -- or sick couch, to be more exact -- I did what I could to keep the preparations moving forward.  Basically, all this meant was listing the few things I still need to purchase and sending out the holiday cards.

Last year, despite the fact that I generally don't like them, I wrote my first form letter recapping the year, to include with Christmas cards going to out-of-state family members.  I figured since I'm a writer, I should write something more creative than "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" on the cards, although there's nothing wrong with that simple and elegant greeting.

The year before, I slipped an original short story into a couple cards.  The story was fictional, but the characters were heavily based on me and my grandmother, and the plot taken from what I know about her childhood.  The few family members I sent it to really seemed to like it, and that warm feedback spurred the idea to write something new each year.

I tackled last year's letter like an exercise in creative nonfiction -- in a first person story format, rather than narrative essay format.  I tried not to indulge in accolades for what we considered outstanding accomplishments, but which would surely have bored the rest of the family to death.  And I sprinkled sensory descriptions and (attempted) humor throughout.  I was happy with the way the letter turned out, and I heard back from several aunts, uncles, and cousins who enjoyed it very much.

This year's letter was a little different.  I chose "family" as the theme, and rather than talk about the kids making honor roll or my husband's successes at work, I talked about the times I spent in 2010 with out-of-state family members.  I was fortunate enough to travel between Georgia and New York, where my family is based, five different times this year.  Plus, we spent a month with Christian's family this summer in France.  I enjoyed sharing my memories of those trips and the profound impact reconnecting with my family has made on me.  I hope those that receive the letter enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Do you write a year-in-review form letter at this time of year?  Do you like receiving them, or cringe every time one falls out of the card you're opening?  I've been (...or still am, perhaps) on both sides of this fence.  What's your take on them?

And...if you're at all interested, here is the link to the short story I included in some of my 2008 Christmas cards.  It's very short, perhaps 1000 words.  It's called A Little Drummer Boy.  Enjoy!