The Christmas season is approaching, but you’re feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge because you’re broke. You can’t afford to buy that new video game for your child. Your spouse or significant other will have to do without that special piece of jewelry. And Mom and Dad won’t be getting that gift certificate for a weekend getaway. What can you do? You can still give one of the most memorable gifts of all by writing a love letter this Christmas season.
A Christmas love letter is basically a thank-you note. The note gives you the opportunity to express in letter form why someone is special to you. For example, you might thank your mom or dad for encouraging you to go to college when everyone else said you couldn’t succeed. Or you might thank a longtime friend for always being willing to listen when you suffered through difficult relationships. You might even thank that one special person in your life for simply sharing day-to-day pleasures with you.
If you think this sounds hokey and if you think the recipient of the letter will not really appreciate it, think again. Here are three examples.
In an essay called “Thank You,” author Alex Haley describes thank-you letters he wrote on Thanksgiving to three influential people in his life: his father, his grandmother, and his grammar school principal.
Though Haley felt the letters were long overdue and though he felt guilty for always taking these people for granted, each of the recipients was extremely grateful for the affection and appreciation. In fact, all three wrote back to Haley expressing their gratitude for his thoughtfulness (Funk, Robert, et al., editors. The Simon and Schuster Short Prose Reader. Prentice Hall, 1997, 352–256).
Another similar example occurs in an essay entitled “How to Write a Personal Letter” by Garrison Keillor. In this essay, Keillor states authoritatively that “Letters are a gift.”
He says letters are especially useful for shy people who “don’t shine at conversation” or for people who have difficulty expressing their true emotions verbally. And in his conclusion, Keillor states that letters are gifts that won’t be discarded: “Probably your friend will put your letter away, it’ll be read again — a few years from now — and it will improve with age” (Funk, Robert, et al., editors. The Simon and Schuster Short Prose Reader. Prentice Hall, 1997, 224–227).
From personal experience, I can tell you that what Keillor says is true.
A long while ago, I wrote a love letter to my family as a Christmas gift. In the letter, I included a separate paragraph for each family member. In these paragraphs, I thanked my mom and dad and each of my five sisters for special moments I had shared with them.
I described Dad’s farewell advice when he put me on an airplane for my two-year Peace Corps assignment in Costa Rica: “Do a good job, Son.” I recalled my sister Kathy’s wedding day and how her evening departure with her husband made me acutely aware of how our family was changing. And I closed with a paragraph to my deceased sister, Peggy, who died when she was four. In that particular paragraph, I remembered how her short life was so full of energy and how her death simultaneously devastated our family and strengthened it. All the family members received a copy of this letter, and I’m pretty sure they all still have their copies all these years later.
Whenever I teach a Composition class, I usually assign the thank-you letter as an early-semester writing assignment. The students’ letters are typically sincere, touching, and heartfelt, and I always encourage the students to pass them on to their loved ones. Typically, too, the students who follow my advice return with sweet stories about how the letters were enjoyed and treasured. I think if you write a love letter this Christmas, both you and your loved ones will be glad you did.