When I was a child, my mother stretched a white string across the sitting room of our farm house each Christmas season and displayed every Christmas card that arrived at our house. An additional string had to be put across another wall to showcase cards on years of card bounties.   She used to sit at a desk in the living room for weeks before Christmas addressing cards and writing letters.   In her address book, she checked off whom she was sending cards to. Another column indicated who had sent cards to us in previous years.  I think she reluctantly dropped names after hearing nothing from some people after several years.

We don’t  hang up the holiday cards that  our Arizona home.  Instead we have a a basket into which we deposit them and the newsletters and accompanying photos.   After each Christmas, I spread out all the cards and put the newsletters together and lay them into a file folder.  In our files are all the holiday cards and letters from people going back to 1985, or 25 years.  I can go back to any year and find the news and greetings from anyone with whom we have been in touch.  I could never stand to toss them like so much trash.  They have represented a moment, or more, when someone dear to us took a moment of their lives to share sentiments, stories or family news.   I can always go back to, say 1989, and see what my first cousin, Barb Bangert, in Wisconsin was sharing or what former newspaper colleagues in Iowa had to say.

Since I was in Peace Corps training in 1968 outside of Mexico City, I have produced a printed newsletter that summarizes my year.  When Patty and I married in 1973, it became a family Christmas newsletter.   This year we produced the 42nd Annual Griffiths Christmas Newsletter.  It was four sides, printed on 11 by 17-inch paper with 3,965 words. It also had an insert — an 8 by 11 1/2-inch sheet of paper with 23 family pictures.  We have a notebook on our shelves containing preserved copies of all 42 newsletters. They essentially represent an in-depth family history going back to 1968, the year I graduated from college.  Several years ago, we rounded up left-over copies of most newsletters and made copies of the rest of the years and gave our son and daughter a full set of newsletters to ensure that this history was preserved and for them to have references.

This year, we sent out 122 newsletters, down from 124 the year before and up from 115 in 2008.  To date we have heard from 65 people/families, including 35 with newsletters, 61 cards and 19 photos.  All in all, that is a low percentage of responses.  A few more greetings will straggle in.  But we know many friendships are worth preserving  and we know some people just don’t send out cards and we can’t change them. Others have health and age issues.

We find it difficult to purge names from our list when folks don’t reciprocate. Maybe some of it is ego.  We want them to know about our world, although they could be called “stingy” for denying us their stories and updates.  Some may feel their lives are too private to tell us about them.   The years of distance between regular  contact may convince some to decide to severe contact, although we aren’t willing on this end.  In other cases, it is a spouse who is less known to us who does the cards who feels less interested in sending out greetings to us.   Columnist Ann Landers used to regularly  criticize Christmas newsletters, calling them nothing more than cases of families simply bragging,  or that they were tedious health reports or rambling commentaries on relatives’ kin whom readers knew nothing about or travelogues.  My criticism is how so many newsletters are cryptic and incomplete. Tell me more, paint a crisper picture,  tell me about your jobs, not just news on the grandchildren.

Once my wife and I have made sure we have all seen all the letters and cards, they go into that file marked “2010 Christmas newsletters” and we will preserve cards, letters and photos from all over America and beyond on people who have warmed us this Christmas with their greetings and stories.