When I think of Christmas memories in my family, so many stories flood back to me. Each year, my grandparents sent a case of grapefruit from their California vacation home. Each year and only on Christmas Eve, we got to sip hot cocoa from Mom’s special Santa Claus mugs. Then there were the matching pajamas for my sisters and me, the hand-embroidered stockings, and the long involved process of making and sending fruit cake to distant relatives.
On Christmas morning, it was essential to sneak downstairs to peek before waking our parents. Then, it was a lesson in patience as we waited – mostly for Dad – to get himself together so that we could all gather under the tree. Even the tree was unique. Still alive, carefully tended with the roots intact, we would plant it in the front yard on the 26th.
Today, I recall all of this and more with a small tug at my heart. I am enjoying new traditions, built with my own family, while carrying on some of what my husband and I knew as children. One of my favorites, though, is the Christmas letter.
The Dreaded Holiday Letter? I LOVE Them!
As a genealogist, and certainly as our family’s keeper of memories, the Christmas letter has become an essential part of my holiday tradition. I start crafting our version in October, filtering through my files for just the right photograph, just the right way to tell a story. A summary of an entire year in two typed pages (or less!) is not necessarily an easy thing for a family historian; and so, my effort takes time.
We send them off to loved ones two ways now: electronically and printed, and we receive them in the same fashion. Sent by branches of the family from all over the globe, the farthest letter comes from a cousin in Taiwan. Each one is carefully tended, preserved in a collection that started to accumulate over 15 years ago.
One of the most exciting elements to me is that this family tradition continues to grow. There are the “regulars,” the folks you can count on year after year to write a letter. Then there are the new additions! Cousins get older and start their own families. They, too, begin to write. Most do not even realize they are documenting their personal history. They only see their actions as a brief moment in time. I know better, though.
Something Old, Something New
The letters vary each year in content and tone. Some are written as simply stated fact, while others are humorous. There are years when “reporting in” is more difficult. Then there are the years when we report joyfully and happily re-live the shared experiences. The folks at Saving Memories Forever point out that it’s important to share it all: the funny and the sad. It’s part of being a family.
Reading a select few, I am reminded of my first genealogy related travel experience, to Alberta, Canada for a second cousin’s 90th birthday party with my aunt. When combined, another group of letters is a remarkable examination of the family’s memories of Grandma’s last year with us, and how we all chose to remember her. For a decent stretch, every year brought new family members to my generation and the next; new spouses, new babies! All of these are letters to be shared and cherished.
Ho Ho Ho
In our family, there’s a second set of letters. These are the letters addressed and mailed to Santa at the North Pole. That tradition starts this year. Written in a child’s shaky handwriting, Santa will receive my daughter’s first letter. You can bet this Mom will be scanning the letter before it’s stuffed and stamped!
The holidays often bring families together, and this year is no exception. As I look forward to a week surrounded by those I love, I think I may just bring my collection with me. The journey down memory road is usually more fun with those with whom I traveled it in the first place.
Genealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper.