Merry Christmas - in 1,000 Words

Article excerpt

He has paddled the waters of the Mississippi River, channeling his inner Tom Sawyer. He's biked the length of South America, and from the northernmost city in Norway to Athens. He's ridden across the United States six times - and may even earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

And just like every year at this time, Forrest "Frosty" Wooldridge will regale his friends and family with tales of his exploits - in a holiday newsletter that's closer to a novella.

His newsletter defies all the accepted rules about such things: it's much too long, it's boastful, it's confessional. He says his life - a Peter Pan existence, he likes to call it - is just too "extraordinarily" interesting not to spill beyond the single page that proper etiquette dictates. Over the past 32 years, as Mr. Wooldridge's adventures have become ever further flung, his holiday newsletter has ballooned to four pages of "power verbs" and "jacked- up" prose.

But his friends don't seem to mind.

"It's awesome," says Sandy Colhoun of Sanbornton, N.H., who met Wooldridge in Antarctica seven years ago and has been on his mailing list ever since. "Frosty is an exceptional individual in every way, and I'm inspired by the approach he takes to life. You can't help but read the letter and share some of the energy and enthusiasm he has."

As the holiday season rolls around, so does the ubiquitous newsletter, making a sometimes welcome and often dreaded appearance. (Not every recipient is as welcoming as Mr. Colhoun. As one colleague offers: "My wife's aunt/cousin often sends out a 'newsletter,' or rather, a novel, around the Christmas season. I ceremoniously burn it as kindling for our traditional Christmas morning fire." But another co-worker gives them considerably higher marks than, say, "two fruitcakes" or a "postcard saying you have been given a gift subscription to Sea Monkey Monthly.")

Yet despite its many warts - too much information, grimy spots the glue stick left behind - the holiday letter seems to be a tradition not to be tampered with. It's a tangible touchstone in a time when communication can be fleeting and ephemeral.

"In this electronic age, it's so easy to send an e-mail. It's so easy to send an E-card," says Christine Louise Hohlbaum, an expatriate living near Munich, Germany, who keeps her family in Virginia abreast of her life through her Web log. "But having a card or picture in your hand makes all the difference. The paper connects you in some way."

Elaine Floyd, author of "Creating Family Newsletters," agrees. "We use technology in some ways, but I think people take great pleasure in the tactile," she says. "For the holidays there is something about ... getting mail, opening it up - having that be part of your Christmas decorations."

New twists

Where advances in the newsletter are apparent, however, is in the ease with which they are produced and their overall more handsome appearance. Digital cameras, scanners, and printers spit out sleek photos, while elegant decorative paper stock is widely available at specialty stores and discounters, thanks to the popularity of scrapbooking.

This month, Better Homes and Gardens magazine features an article called "The New Family Newsletter." It offers suggestions for pithy, crafty takes on a classic - including a paper ornament monogrammed with the recipient's initial, and a business card printed with your family's contact information to urge friends and family to keep in touch. …