The Christmas Letters


By Lee Smith

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 19, 2002. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

In The Christmas Letters, three generations of women reveal their stories of love and marriage in the letters they write to family and friends during the holidays. It’s a down-home Christmas story about tradition, family, and the shared experiences of women.Here, in a letter of her own, Lee Smith explains how she was inspired to write this celebrated epistolary novel:

Dear Friends,

Like me, you probably get Christmas letters every year. I read every word and save every letter. Because every Christmas letter is the story of a life, and what story can be more interesting than the story of our lives? Often, it is the story of an entire family. But you also have to read between the lines with Christmas letters. Sometimes, what is not said is even more important than what is on the page.

In The Christmas Letters, I have used this familiar format to illumine the lives, hopes, dreams, and disappointments of three generations of American women. Much of the story of The Christmas Letters is also told through shared recipes. As Mary, my favorite character, says, “I feel as if I have written out my life story in recipes! The Cool Whip and mushroom soup years, the hibachi and fondue period, then the quiche and crepes phase, and now it’s these salsa years.”

I wrote this little book for the same reason I write to my friends and relatives every holiday–Christmas letters give us a chance to remember and celebrate who we are.

With warmest greetings, Lee Smith


A Shoebox of a Home

So I want everybody out there to know that I am fine, happy as can be in this little aqua shoebox of a home with my baby Andrew. We are so busy in here that it is very difficult right now for me to even imagine any other world outside these four walls.

I watch Vietnam on television of course, and often think of you, Joe, but honestly it is hard for me to concentrate too long or to believe that the war is actually real and not just another show on television. I know that's awful, but it's true. Somehow I believe it would seem more real to me if it wasn't on television all the time. Honestly, my imagination has failed me on this. I'm so glad you will be home soon.

But, Joe, I do wish you would write, at least to me. I'm sure you are hearing this from all of us, so do it! Make copies and send one to everybody, like I am doing here. I'm sure the Army has got a mimeograph machine someplace! By the way, it is hard for me to believe you scarcely know Sandy yet. Somehow I think that all the people I love, love each other as much as I love them, and I forget that you all have hardly met.

Well, I will quit running on and on and tell you now about Sandy's and my first Christmas dinner together (yesterday). It was a riot! We had a baked hen which barely fit in my oven (I am trying, Mama!) and oyster casserole which did not work out because I used smoked oysters instead of the real other kind which I guess you are supposed to use. (I had bought these flat square little cans of oysters at the Piggly Wiggly, they were very expensive and blew my whole food budget for the week, but I thought you had to have oyster casserole on Christmas, Mama. I thought it was the law!)

Well, it looked okay, the cracker crumbs having formed a nice golden crust just the way they are supposed to, but the minute I bit into it, I knew something was the matter. But Sandy did not even know the difference because he had never tasted oysters before anyway. Luckily, Sandy will eat anything, and he thought it was delicious! We ate Christmas dinner on the floor-on our aqua shag carpet, that is!-since we don't have a table yet (though Sandy is going to build us one soon, he can build anything, if he can get off from work long enough to do it) while Andrew slept on his blanket right beside us.

And when we got up to do the dishes, we saw it had started to snow! So we bundled poor little sleepy Andrew up in that red snowsuit you sent, Mama, and took him out in his first snowfall ever, which was coming down so thick and fast at first that we couldn't even see beyond our little row of trailers, to the street.

The streetlight made a perfect cone of light, full of whirling flakes, as we stood beneath it and stuck our tongues out to catch the flakes and tried to make Andrew stick his tongue out, too. How sweet and cold those snowflakes were, melting on our tongues, I will never forget it.

And then before we knew it, everybody from the other trailers had come out too, and we met neighbors we had never even seen before! Such as a crazy old lady named Miss Pike, who wears the most makeup you have ever seen and used to teach singing lessons, opera I believe, and a fat little man named Leonard Dodd who described himself as an "inventor" (though I don't know what he invents), and another man named Gerald Ruffin who looked very aristocratic, but wore a plaid robe and red velvet bedroom shoes and was drunk as a lord. Somebody whispered that he used to be a lawyer but had fallen on hard times. He was in politics, too. He is from one of the most prominent families in the state. I guess he must be the black sheep of that family! We all talked about the snow, and passed around some of the fudge you sent, Mama, and then the Teeter sisters had us in for coffee. You have never seen as much junk as they have squeezed into their trailer-they call it "brick-a-brack." It covers every surface that is not already covered by a doily. All their coffee cups were made of flowery bone china, with gold rims. Gerald Ruffin's hands were shaking so much that his cup rattled on his saucer like a castanet. Well, I could go on and on. . . . Anyway, I don't know whether it was that coffee or pure excitement; but I couldn't sleep a wink all night long. I lay snuggled up to Sandy like a spoon in a drawer and listened to Andrew make his snuffly little sounds in sleep, and peeped out the porthole window at my portion of the sky, which was full of whirling flakes, no two alike in the universe, and thought about my baby, and my husband, and Daddy, and all of you, and my heart was full to bursting.

Merry Christmas and love from your very poor but very happy,

Mary Copeland


On Sale
Aug 19, 2002
Page Count
136 pages
Algonquin Books

Lee Smith

About the Author

Lee Smith began writing stories at the age of nine and selling them for a nickel apiece. Since then, she has written seventeen works of fiction, including Fair and Tender Ladies, Oral History, Guests on Earth, and most recently, Dimestore. She has received many awards, including the North Carolina Award for Literature and an Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; her novel The Last Girls was a New York Times bestseller as well as winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

Learn more about this author