“I’m not sending Christmas cards this year” I said matter-of-factly.
“No?” Matt replied.
“No. These are Covid times. Cards aren’t good enough.”
That was me; mind made up and self-assured. I was doing away with the traditional Christmas card greeting this year. These were Covid times, and the people that I cared about deserved something far, far better.
For it’s part, I knew that writing letters would hurt. Having causalgia in my dominant hand, holding a pen is normally hard for me. Even if it took me a week or three, I gathered that the pain of writing was nothing compared to the psychological turmoil of the past year. No, no matter how much it hurt, the show really must go on.
Over the space of ten days, I wrote twelve letters at a rate of no more than one single-sided letter per day. Some days were very good days, so I’d do two in a day instead. I never wrote on the unpatterned side, though. The printed pattern was only on one side, and so my writing would be, too.
I folded the letters into envelopes and wrote on the corresponding addresses. I peeled off the stamps and promised myself that I’d post them in the morning. After that, I’d just hope that they’d be received. After all, these were such uncertain times.
It was a Saturday afternoon when the phone rang for the first time. That was unusual, it’s very rare that the landline rings.
“Is that Helen? Oh, you sound just like your mother!” I smiled warmly. I loved my Aunty Ann.
“Thankyou for your letter my darling, it was ever so nice,” she began. “Your mother and I don’t sent Christmas cards anymore, it only goes in the bin.” No harm done, I gathered. At least I knew she was okay.
“Alright, Skizzy? Merry Christmas” my brother mused over puffs on a cigarette. By the way, Roland liked your letter.”
“Oh god, yes!” my mother chimed in. “They were absolutely bloody beautiful!”
I smiled and shook my head. It was only an idea, I hadn’t expected this kind of reaction at all.
After Christmas, the ‘Christmas letter’ energy seemed to die down. It was done, dusted, and I thought, life had moved on.
“Oh those letters you wrote, Helen” Mum began over a video call, “everyone I’ve spoken to is keeping them”.
I choked a little, I was completely flabberghasted by the response. Really?!
“Jane and Mark said they were almost moved to tears.”
Jane and Mark, my Mum’s neighbours. We’d always gotten on well with them. Laughs and drinks over the fence, and Ellie, their daughter, was one of my bridesmaids. Oh yes, it’s always good to have good neighbours.
What had started out as a kind gesture had now boosted my popularity in ways that I’d never imagined. What started off as me caring about other people ended up with them focusing their attention on me. To be honest, I still don’t know how to handle all of this being in the limelight – that’s normally my brother’s job!
And yet, there was just one letter that I still hadn’t sent.
You see, I can be a creature of stealth, and in doing what I do, the very last thing that I’d wanted to do was to give my game away. No, no, this thoughtful gesture had to be unexpected. The very last thing I should do was to pre-emptively publish my creativity online. No, I told myself, it’d have to go to you all after Christmas instead.
Perhaps the most surprising thing of all was how little this gesture cost. Apart from the several nights spent writing the letters, a quick price break down would include:
- Christmas writing paper, 50 sheets – £8.99
- Cream DL Envelopes, 25 pack – £3.25
- Royal Mail Second Class Standard Letter stamps, 12 stamp book – £7.92
Total cost: £20.16
Of course, you may need some nice pens, too. I didn’t include my PaperMate pens because they were an advent gift. Even still, isn’t that such a small price to pay to wish a dozen people a very thoughtful Merry Christmas?
It’s a tragic world we live in now where everything is done simultaneously. Emails are sent, texts are received and everything is done digitally. Seldom do people slow down and appreciate the time in communicating with someone. How many people are still using their mobile phones at the dinner table? Isn’t it time we got back to basics?
Helen’s Top 12 Tips For Letter-Writing
1. Invest in some nice paper, envelopes and pens
This isn’t your thesis notes, this is a personal letter, and the least your loved ones deserve is some nice paper. White is okay, but buy some nice white letter-writing paper, rather than office printing paper. Your words will still have an impact on inkjet paper, but they won’t have nearly the same impact that they would have if you were to take the time to invest in some nice stationery for the occasion.
2. Use a line guide
A little secret? I totally used a line guide for my letters. Without it, my words would slope up, then down, then up and.. well, we all know how that would look! Don’t hesitate in printing off a free line guide and using some paper clips to hold it to your writing paper. It costs next to nothing to do, and the quality of your letters will improve greatly.
3. Leave the office pens in your desk
Whenever you write, it might be tempting to simply pick up an office pen and start writing – don’t! Just like the quality of your paper, the quality of your pen also matters. Even if you use a nice, good quality ballpoint pen, please use something better than a standard, office-supply biro. This is a thoughtful process, so put thoughts into the quality of the pens you use. However, feel free to skip on the fountain pen unless you’ve had plenty of practice. A nice, ballpoint-written letter will be far better received than a messy letter that is covered in ink blotches!
4. Leave the fun gel pens out of this
No matter how tempted you might be to yield your metallics or break out your neon inks, please don’t. If you want to be read and taken seriously, the best way to start is to write like a sensible adult. Understand what ink colours convey and stick to simple black or blue, and never, ever write a letter in red!
5. Ditch text speak and emojis
In a text, a colon and a closed bracket will typically produce a smiley, but in a letter, it’s seen exactly as it is. Part of the magic of letter-writing is taking the time to use our vocabulary, we’re getting back to a time when we didn’t use smileys at the end of our sentences. Use full words and if you’re unsure, doublecheck your spellings, too. It’s only ever a tragic thing to receive a letter that reads like a very long text.
6. Create yourself a clear space to write
It might be tempting to prop a hard-backed book on your knee, but your chosen people deserve better and your being curled over for several hours won’t be doing your spine any justice, either. I put my laptop away and used my desk, but you could pick a dining table or breakfast bar instead. Whatever you decide, just just make sure you have the space to write comfortably and freely.
7. Hold them in your heart
When you write, really think about the person you’re writing to. Try to be free of distractions so that you can think about that person and the things that you want to say. Think about the things you would normally tell them or share with them, or the other relatives they might ask about. Don’t add details they wouldn’t normally care about. You want your letter to feel natural and genuine.
8. Avoid questions
“Hi, how are you?” is pointless. Again, this isn’t a text and you aren’t going to get an instant response. Maybe the recipient is fine, but in the time it takes for you to receive a reply, they may have taken a nasty fall broken their leg. Instead, opt for well wishes, my personal favourite is “I hope this letter finds you well.” That way, your letter stays relevant.
9. Try to be happy
Look, I’m not going to lie, 2020 was one hell of a year for us all, but the last thing anyone wants to receive is a letter moping on about it! It’s fine to share your news, but try to keep the bad news brief and the good news longer. The bad news should be a tidbit of extra information, not the sole reason you write. Unless, of course, it’s about the loss of a close relative.
10. Keep it short(ish)
As a rule, 1-2 sides of A4 is plenty. Having someone who writes is great, but a long letter requires a long reply, and people don’t always have the time. Not only, but a long letter can seem like that person who just whittles on, and if people don’t want to listen, they won’t want to read, either. Be informative and connecting, but don’t go into every little detail. If the recipient wants to know more, they will write or call.
11. Consider providing a point of correspondence
Just as I mentioned above, it’s great to send a letter, but absolutely pointless if you don’t provide a means for them to get in touch. Provide an address or a telephone number if you’d like to hear from them. Try to avoid an email. Remember, this isn’t supposed to be digital!
12. Even if you do , don’t expect a reply
This really is the crunch. You write a thoughtful letter, but then then there’s no handwritten letter in your mail and there’s no telephone call, and to be honest, that kind of hurts. The really important thing to remember is that this isn’t like paying a bill – you’d like them to reply, but they don’t have any obligation to respond. If this happens to you, take heart. You did your part, and for all you know, you may have still made their day, after all.
Alright lovelies, I hope you enjoyed this post. How do you feel about letter-writing? Is it something you like to do? Don’t forget, if you like the process, you can always write to me on Slowly (User ID: XZYQQ3). Okay, so it’s digital, but I really like how Slowly slows down the process in our normally fast-paced, electronic world!
Until next time,
Stay safe & have fun,
Helen & Matt xx