The Lost Art of Letter Writing

One of my Christmas memories is helping my dad with our annual family Christmas letter.  He typed the two-page letter on the computer, then printed it on nice Christmas paper.  The first letters came out on a Dot-Matrix printer, so we had to tear all the holey edges off before folding the pages into the envelopes.  I was his chief assistant: the stamp licker, paper folder, label sticker, address checker, envelope sealer.  It usually took us a Sunday afternoon to get the stack of letters ready to go; then we’d walk them down to the mailbox and drop them in.

One Christmas, I received a letter writing set from my aunt.  It had two pads of pink textured lined paper with matching envelopes, two flower-patterned pens, and two little heart notepads.  For years, I was a prolific letter writer.  I sent regular epistles to my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my cousins, and several penpals.  Then slowly those letters evolved into emails, and then I got busy with work and university and sent fewer letters.  A few years ago, Grandma returned a stack of letters to me.  I smiled as I saw my childish handwriting and read the tidbits of news that I’d thought worth sharing at the time.

These days, my mailbox usually only has bills or the latest book I’m receiving for review.  It’s a rare and happy day that we get any real letter mail.  Last year, I think my grandma was the only one who sent cards for the girl’s birthdays and for my anniversary.  (She has a computer and email but prefers handwriting letters.)  The rest of us use Facebook to say “Happy Birthday” or recognize special occasions (and Facebook has that handy little feature to remind us about those special occasions).

Sometimes, I pull out a card and a pen and sit down to write a letter to my grandma or a friend (and discover how bad my handwriting has become now that I use it so infrequently!).  I think about how much we know about our history because people wrote letters and other people saved those letters.  For example, we wouldn’t have half of the New Testament if the apostles hadn’t written letters to the early Christians or if those early Christians hadn’t treasured those letters and copied them and shared them with all of their friends.  I like reading the greetings in those letters and imagining the people to whom they were written:

From Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who received a faith equal to ours through the justice of our God and savior Jesus Christ. May you have more and more grace and peace through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:1-2 CEB)

Obviously, nothing I’ve written in a letter is as interesting or inspiring as what Saint Peter wrote in his letters.  Yet ordinary letters still have the power of connecting people.  I have three shoe boxes full of letters I’ve kept over the years—special letters for special occasions (like Christmas!) and everyday letters about a friend’s life and encouraging letters for hard times.  Sometimes, I pull out those boxes and sift through the memories and appreciate the time my family and friends took to write a letter.

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