As Christmas approaches, I realize that soon I will need to write my annual Christmas letter and get the Christmas cards addressed for the mail. I have a list of addresses I use for my holiday cards, adding and removing from year to year. That led me to wonder how technology has changed the way we send Christmas greetings and how we store addresses.
My approach each year is to pull up the previous year’s Christmas letter that I save in my word processing program. I use that as the template for the current letter as it keeps me on track. The letters are printed out on special 8.5×11 holiday stationery. Some of my Christmas cards don’t require letters – generally those go to church friends or others who I see on a regular basis and know what my yearly activities have been. Distant family members and friends get a letter and a card. Then I pull out my address book to address all the cards. There are those who have moved and lacking a current address, I attach my Christmas letter to an email.
So I have mixed both current technology – computerized Christmas letters -and old-school address book to complete the Christmas card task. There are some people who have all of the addresses and information in their smart phones or tablets. If their phone gets lost or suffers major damage, all of that information could be lost. Future generations would never have an old-fashioned address book to look through, perhaps with clues as to their parents’ or grandparents’ friends or relatives.
I’m fairly lucky in that respect. My mom had kept my grandparents’ address books after they passed away. When my mother passed away, I got her address books and those of my grandparents. In those pages are names that I know, reminding me of times in the past. There are also names of people I had never heard of, which gave me pause as to what the relationship was. There are also notations by names – death dates, the word “cousin”, etc. Those clues have proven very useful in my family research.
I worry that the digital age will change all of that. As our ancestors kept journals or diaries – we write blogs and websites. In high school we passed notes in class and between classes. Today, students text each other. My grandparents and mom wrote letters daily and weekly when they were apart due to military transfers. We write emails or update our Facebook status. Even if everything in cyberspace will remain for eons, there is no tactile experience. The feel of the leather address book covers, the brittle onion skin typewriter paper, or the embossed stationary can bring the past into the present. The handwritten words of a beloved ancestor or family member long since passed can shed light on what was important to them at that time in their life.
In contrast, words in an email – sentence fragments, texting language, upper caps “shouting”, and short messages don’t say much about the writer, other than they used technology. Even in this hurry up world we live in, perhaps it is important to revisit our ancestors’ (even parents’) use of the handwritten word – especially when it comes to addressing our cards, keeping our address books, and a long distance letter or two.