Beginning right after Thanksgiving until about now, every year millions of American families engage in a tradition that all pay attention to, but is invisible to the public eye. It is the exchange of Christmas or Holiday letters. A more apt name for them would “Annals,” for they are the recording of the life and times of a family for a full year.
From the quotidian to life-changing events, these friends — for we wouldn’t receive the letters if they were not — wrap us into the rhythm of their life. “Finally, we remodeled the kitchen,” “Patricia just landed a job in Denver — straight out of school,” “We lost dear Great Aunt Mary this year (she was 89),” “Tim and Jill had a baby in October — our first grandchild,” “All of us were together for a wonderful week at our favorite lake upstate.” Many include cheerful photos.
What is so reassuring about all these letters as they tumble into the mail box is their very ordinariness. That is, we see nothing unusual about all these manifestations of the American Dream in this large and determinedly middle-class nation. Although the details may differ, we see the Dream in all of them: get through school, find a job, build a career, marry, buy a home, raise a family and see the process repeat itself.
Most of the letters are written by women, wives and mothers, for they are the ones who — even if they have their own careers — see the import of the full range of all the activities of their mates and children. As time goes on, of course, the pace changes.
From school, sports, lessons of all kinds and career-building, attention turns to retirement pursuits, hobbies, travel, church activities.
All families experience disappointments; some great sadness. Annals writers, naturally, turn most of their attention to the positive. This is not just seasonal grace, but that inherent American belief that tomorrow can be better than today. Optimism is something the late President Reagan understood well — and spoke of often — while President Obama seems to understand it scarcely at all. Rather than relying on human ingenuity and self-reliance, he repeatedly offers statist policies and regulations that dampen optimism.
Reagan once said, “America every day is a new beginning and a every sunset merely the latest milestone on a voyage that never ends, for this is the land that has never become, but is always in the act of beginning.” As mundane as the Annals letters may seen at a glance, this is what they mean.
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