By Miko Johnston
Happy New Year everyone. The holiday season has ended, but the memory lingers for many reasons. Because of all the activity at the end of the year, I limit my writing to holiday messages and thank you notes, but as we always say – writing is writing.
Each year I buy five dozen holiday cards with messages ranging from Merry Christmas to various generic seasonal greetings. It takes a full day to pick an appropriate card and think of something to write in each one that I send to family and friends, but the annual ritual always begins with updating the mailing list before my husband prints out labels. Although I get together, or at least correspond, with many on the list, with some this is the only time of year we’re in contact. The exchange is a way to stay in touch, see how we’re doing, and send good wishes for the holiday and upcoming year.
Revising the list has become a bittersweet part of the process. In the past, most of the changes have been addresses and the occasional addition (marriage, children) or division (divorce). However, for the past few years, most changes have been subtraction – the painful act of deleting ANDs. Don and Jean are now Don, Bert and Ruth are now Ruth. Some former ANDs become NONEs. When Don or Ruth are no longer with us, the entire entry will have to be deleted, leaving gaps in my mailing list as well as my heart.
The joy of receiving cards offsets much of that nostalgia. I often get to see pictures of the family and hear about their adventures over the past year. Some of the news may not be happy, but the contact always is. I set up all my cards along the living room and dining room windows, each one like a handshake, or hug, from someone dear. When I remove them in early January I take a moment to reflect on the cards that are missing, a reminder of those I’ve lost, either in body, or in mind, or who’ve just drifted away.
For me the best part of holiday gifts isn’t receiving them, but writing thank you cards. Like the holiday cards, it starts with finding the right card for the person to be thanked. I have an assortment of stationery with different designs, ranging from charming illustrations to an embossed THANK YOU. I favor classic white or cream notes with matching or coordinating envelopes. Then there’s the challenge of coming up with something fresh, sincere and meaningful to write, just the type of challenge I relish.
I always begin with pen and paper, and write out something I think may be suitable using the three-step method*. I play around with the wording until I’m happy with the results, then carefully copy it onto the note**. Unlike my holiday cards, I always hand write both the recipient’s address and my return address on the envelope. Only the stamp and the card’s design is pre-printed. To me that’s part of the thank you process.
Don’t get me started on how getting thank you notes has become rarer than a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, especially from anyone under 60. However, when I do receive one I treasure it. After reading the note, I study how the sender constructed the message, admire the wording – heck, I admire the attempt! One of the best notes I’d received last year came from the grandson of a cousin, thanking my husband and me for a high school graduation gift. We winged the present based on what little we knew of his interests, but his note expressed such appreciation and gratitude, and so eloquently, that it didn’t matter that he emailed it to us. I’ll happily accept an emailed, phoned or texted note of thanks now. Frankly, some of my younger relatives can’t be bothered to even say thank you, let alone send a written note to us. Only my husband’s intervention kept me from giving them coal for Christmas. But that’s another story.
How was your holiday season? Did you receive any cards or notes that were especially meaningful? And what was your favorite part of holiday writing?
*Thank the giver, tell them why you’re thankful, then thank them again.
**I have dysgraphia – the writing equivalent of dyslexia.
Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies such as the newly released “Whidbey Landmarks.”
Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org