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Our Christmas picture with our Christmas letter

Jennifer was promoted to CEO…Jim’s latest iPhone app swept the nation… after we sailed on our yacht for three months in the Caribbean, we took our private jet … had to return because, Jayden, age 14, was enrolling at Yale… Mia, is at the top….

 “I was sick most of January, and then in February, I had a cough I couldn’t get rid of. As if that wasn’t enough, I got pink eye, and then a hang nail wouldn’t heal, …I got the flu – and the bathroom was never the same…”

Although Christmas Letters are not as common now as years ago, the mention of Christmas letters makes some people roll their eyes. Indeed Christmas Letters get a bad rap. Today, people typically send e-cards with snowflakes that appear at the click of a snowman, or Shutterfly and Costco cards with photos and a brief sentiment.

My son and his wife send calendars with photos on each monthly page – a story of their year that brings smiles to eager recipients.

Dave and Judi create a one-page collage of around-the-year photos. Family warmth and laughter wafts off the page.

Myra, succinctly describes her family’s year with a half-page of word pictures: Kansas Reflections – 2008: Small town festivals…Chiggers…Wheat fields in every direction…Pond with canoe rides, croaking frogs and wandering turtles…Wimpy garden..,Laughing grandchildren. I anticipate receiving her mini-stories and always wish for more.

The first Christmas Letter I have of my mother’s is from 1958, when my parents, Elmer and Ruby Gaede, served under Public Health Services in Tanana, Alaska. The typed and carbon-copied letter has a section for each month, and was sent to family members in Kansas, Oklahoma, and California.

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JANUARY

“The first week in January, Ruby’s face and hands healed from burns received from an oven explosion. Mark had monkey-ed with the oven knob, it was his way of celebrating is second birthday.

Elmer went on a caribou hunt with the village chief using our plane. They returned with one caribou.

Our coldest temperature thus far was 52 below.

One day, just after take-off Elmer noticed one plane ski was hanging straight down. We all expected a crash on landing but God intervened and upon stalling the plane on landing the disabled ski came up so he landed safely.”

I followed suit, designing my own Christmas Letters. Like a time capsule, I am reminded that that year my husband completed his master’s degree in civil engineering and went to work for Penner Construction. I graduated with a teaching degree. Our Peke-a-poo that looked liked a Golden Retriever, turned two. We moved into our first house. We had our first child.

Decades later, I have a history of our family, not an in-depth memoir, but certainly the primary experiences we’ve shared, along with documented memories.

My eyes light up, not roll when Christmas Letters start to arrive in my street-side mailbox.

I am inspired when I read about someone –

  • leading a Bible Study in a women’s prison.
  • helping with a meat-canning relief project.
  • using his or her experience and skills to rebuild after a flood or tornado disaster.
  • volunteering in an inner-city thrift shop.
  • keeping the faith in the midst of loss, fear, and the unknown.

I am motivated to explore new places when someone describes –

  • a good-deal off-season trip to Iceland.
  • hiking in Death Valley during the winter months.
  • taking a train through the Canadian Rockies in autumn.

When I write Christmas letters, I reflect on the past year.

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What attitude or behavior do I need to change for the coming year?
  • Can I find humor in situations I took too seriously?
  • Is there something in my life that might inspire or comfort someone else?

When I spy a Christmas Letter in my stack of mail. I make myself a cup of tea, turn on the fireplace, and anticipate a visit with a friend. I’m not disgusted when the only time I hear from someone is at Christmas; I’m thrilled by decades of Christmas Letter connectivity.

My mother’s last Christmas letter closed with a handwritten note: Lovingly, Ruby G. unless God does a miracle-healing, this will be my last Christmas letter.

The Christmas photo that accompanied my mother’s 1958 Christmas letter became the cover for my second book, “From Kansas Wheat Fields to Alaska Tundra: a Mennonite Family Finds Home.”

KS Wheat Fields-AK Tundra Book Cover

The Christmas Letters of Past, Present, and Future have added up in good ways – both sent and received.

This article was first printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Dec 2015/ Jan 2016 issue.)

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