The Art of Writing Letters

The Art of Writing Letters

What do you want for Christmas?


The Lost Art of Letter Writing…

Recently a close relative phoned me and asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  At first I thought it was going to be tough to answer.  I told them that my wife and I didn’t really need any ‘stuff’.  We don’t - really.  Finally, I told them that whatever she got it couldn’t be more than $20.00.  They laughed and agreed. 

My wife and I agree that just buying something for Christmas because it is Christmas is kind weird.  I know, I was bad enough when the kids were growing up.  And I still buy stuff for my granddaughter, she is just turning 8.  

I do like the sentiment.  This particular relative said that she loves us and wants to acknowledge that.  I get that. 

I read an article recently about Christmas presents and what children remember.  It got me thinking.  What do I remember most about Christmas as child?  Not much actually, because it is a really, really long time ago.  But things that I do remember have a lot more to do with what I was doing and who I was with, than what I received as gift.  

From that I thought, what would I really like from anyone?  Some of my children live a long way away and are not much on Facebook and are generally very busy living and making a living.  They live in a very expensive city.  So, I don’t get a lot of regular news.  What I would really like is news about the more mundane aspects of their lives.  “We went out for coffee and had this and that and the waiter was really nice, complimented me on my child’s manners…”  

And what would be better than a phone call.  A phone call is fleeting.  Once it is over, it is gone.  A letter or a chatty email, I can reread.  It takes a few moments of time and thought.  But it is a physical thing.  Even in the form of an email, I can reread and/or print.  

What I want for Christmas is a newsy letter.  This is for all of my kids, granddkids and friends.  I want to know stupid details.  Tell me how the date bombed.  Tell me how the new recipe that you tried was a disaster.  Good stuff is OK as well.

Tell me how your wife, husband, children, brother, sister did so well at something.  

My mother was a master letter writer.  When my siblings and I were quite young, after we were in bed, she would write letters.  Every evening, that is how she would end her day.   Raised four children, worked two jobs, did volunteer work and wrote letters.  Her letters were newsy.  You knew, after reading one of her letters, how her life was going.  They were a peek, a window, into her life.  

Here is some background on my mother’s letter writing skills.  When she was a teenager in High School in Holland, one of the things that all of the students did was get a Pen Pal somewhere in Europe.  My mother got a young man in Denmark.  They wrote each other all through the second world war and continued to do so for 40 years.  

My mother was divorced and discovered that her Pen Pal was now a widower.  Her mother had passed away so she went to Holland for the funeral. While there, she decided to make the short trip to Denmark to visit this grown man that she had been writing for 40 years or so.  They had never met.  Long story short, within two years they were married and she was on her way to live with him in Denmark.  

He told me an interesting storey a few years into the marriage when they were visiting Canada.  She continued to write letters as she made many friends in her years in Canada.  He told me that she would receive as many as 3-4 letter each day in the mail.  That is personal letters. Each DAY.  

My mother’s letters were so, I don’t know, important?  They compelled you to reply just because they were interesting.  She gave so much of herself you just had to give back.

Here is an excerpt from a letter that she wrote to my family in 1989:

“Thanks for the letter […], it was good to hear from you.  I am shitting outside in the garden writing  to you.  We have had beautiful weather all week, and we hope it will continue, as we are expecting Tina & Geoff […] her on Sunday.  They phoned last Monday to ask, if it was convenient, if the came and of course it is.  So the were going to book it.  Please read […]’s letter.

It is a good thing to have guests sometimes, we have painted and cleaned and washed windows and all the work in the garden!

And tonight we are having 12 people here for a meeting and I had to bake for this.  So, no dull moments here for sure! Is the baby’s name going to be […] for sure?  I will make him one of those embroideries like I did for the others.

We had 300 people here from all kinds of European countries, they all cam to [City].  It had something to do with environment and the future, with hopefully, will have less pollution.  They had a large display in the Town Hall and we talked to some teachers, who came with them, one from Northern Ireland.  

The schools do a lot here too for anti-pollution and you name it.

I hope my new grandchild is doing well and I also help you are fine, [name].

[name], it was the very best news I heard about you getting [name] ready for High School. Give them an education.

[name] got her Bachelor of Science and she is now taking a summer course together with [name] in business administration. 

Please send some baby announcements, also one to [name] though she is in Holland till July 16.  She phoned last night.  And [name] and [Mrs. name].  They are also in Holland. 

I think of you all so often.  See you in 6 weeks. 

The baby will be smiling then!!

lots of love, 



The first time you write a letter it might take some effort.  The second time, hopefully, somewhat less effort.  But like anything, you will improve and learn how to do it better.  

A few pointers:  

Everyone has bumps in life.  But don’t fill your letters with bad news that the person on the other end cannot do anything about.  As a parent, I know not everything is not always rosy and have no problem hearing about difficulties but use balance.  

Just tell about your life and I promise I’ll be interested.  That is what you know. I want a window into that.

Don’t make it point form. Write sentences. This is not Facebook or Instagram.  As you get better, it is OK to wax poetic.

You can email your letter.  BUT, if you have a printer, then print it and sign and put in an envelope.  Go to the post office once a year and buy 12 letter stamps so that you can write me once a month.  Don’t forget the envelopes.  

Some say handwritten letters are better.  If you see my handwriting, you would change your mind.  For some, this is a great idea.  The aesthetic flow of good Penmanship, if you are capable, is a long sight more desirable.  If you want to do that, spend the money on a good pen and some nice paper.  

This, I believe, will show care about a person much more than a new shirt.  

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