Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not another Christmas newsletter

Christmas 1964
This year passed by all too quickly. We have seven in school now and it really doesn't seem possible. Marjorie is a freshman in High School, Cathy in eighth, Andy in seventh, Mark and Matthew in fifth, Christopher in second, and Cecilia in first. They are enrolled in four different schools, but all leave approximately the same time every morning…..

That was the first paragraph of my mother's second annual Christmas newsletter. I have no idea what happened to the first one. It is probably hidden in some archive somewhere in the annals of time never to be found. In any event, so began the annual newsletter tradition of the Dias clan. For the next 20 or so years, my mother would faithfully sit at the kitchen table and with her manual antiquated Royal typewriter she purchased for my dad, she would write her newsletter recounting in minute detail every incident that transpired over the course of the year in the Dias household. If you went on a trip, it was in the Dias Christmas letter. If you made a new friend it was in the Dias Christmas letter. If you stubbed your toe, it was in the Dias Christmas letter. Even with the advent of the computer, my mother still used that old Royal typewriter. New technology didn't matter to my mother - that Royal typewriter became her faithful companion. With great anticipation, friends and relatives awaited the annual news of the Dias clan. These newsletters are now a part of the historical record of who the Dias' are as a family.

Many members of the family continue the tradition, because everyone remembers the newsletters my mother wrote. Copies have been made of them, and most in the family have a set. It is the history of our youth.

If we were to believe all the newsletters we receive each year, we would begin to think that nothing ever bad happens in the world anymore. In years past, as the annual newsletters would arrive in the mailbox, I would pile them up on the table sometimes without reading them because the letters would contain the same hackneyed and staid material about which everyone writes – only the names and places would changed. The letters would continue the same braggadocio about how well so and so's kid's are doing, and the great things accomplished in the year. For a long time I did not participate in the traditional sending of Christmas letters, because I did not want my letters to sound like the letters I dreaded receiving. After all, Christmas newsletters are expensive to send. I am well known for my parsimony, so I wanted to be different. I was not going to send something that most people probably would not read anyway. If I were to send Christmas letters, I was going to write them differently.

I wanted the Christmas newsletter to be like a résumé. A résumé needs to stand out from the rest. An employer goes through hundreds of résumés in a particular job search. A résumé needs to stop the employer in his tracks. It needs to cause the employer to stop, pick up the phone and give the prospective employee a call. This is what I wanted my newsletter to do. I wanted it to be different from the run-of-the-mill newsletter. I wanted people to want to read it. I wanted readers to look forward to the next newsletter, and miss it if I didn't write one.

The newsletter does a couple of things. It maintains your network with people to whom you would not normally write, and most importantly it keeps your address book up to date. But because of the fact I don't keep in touch with a lot of these people, why would they want to know every facet of my life. In most cases, they wouldn't and the newsletter ends up where all the other mass mailings end up, in the circular file.

My newsletter has evolved over the years. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I am going to write. I do several rewrites. I write it not just fact based, but with literary style. I try to use descriptive adjectives, and I try to describe scenes. I want the reader to be able to feel what I write. If I can evoke an emotion, I have accomplished my goal.

The Christmas newsletter tradition I don't believe even exists in other countries. I also translate my newsletter in Spanish, and my readers appreciate it. I send them to relatives on my wife's side of that family and other friends of Hispanic origin we have met through the years, and I presume it is probably the only newsletter they receive. The translation takes awhile. It takes a long time to transfer the same meaning from English to Spanish, and translating humor can sometimes be a daunting task. American humor can sometimes be quite different if it is translatable at all. My wife edits the letter. I have a friend in Segovia, Spain who sent out an email telling about her family one year. She said it was my newsletter that prompted her to do it. So maybe I started a new tradition in another country.

The Christmas newsletter has its place in American society. Before the Internet age, it was almost the only way we used to connect with family and friends. Some use the Internet to send their newsletter now, but that seems somewhat tacky to me. I prefer mailing it out. This year however I also posted my newsletter on my blog. Years from now, when my children have grown, my Christmas newsletters may turn out to be a treasure trove of historical significance to members of my own family. This has been the case with my mother's newsletters. My mother has died, but her newsletters have left a little bit of her personality behind. My mother's newsletters bring us back to our youth. It gives us memories we might not otherwise have. And, maybe someday when we are long gone, someone else, perhaps a great-great-grandchild may find these letters and it may give him/her a little more insight into who he/she is and where he/she comes from. Now, wouldn't that be cool.

P.S.: For all my readers out there who send me Christmas letters, I do read them - really.

Here is a good website on Christmas newsletters which may be of interest.

Spanish Newsletter

English Newsletter

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