The Notorious Family Holiday Letter
Boots crunching in the icy grass, I make my way to my mailbox. As I crack open the frozen door, I am met with 18 catalogs, four bills and six hand-addressed, plump, white envelopes with various festive stickers sealing their contents.
Yes, it’s December – time to open the grenades that are, The Family Christmas Letters. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they will arrive by the handful; some boring, some hilarious and all potentially worthy of “The Biography Channel.”
Maybe I’m just nosey, but I love reading these self-published report cards. Whether written in prose to mimic “The Night before Christmas” or told from the dog’s perspective, these yearly updates are riddled with misspellings and effused with twinkling embellishments. All of life’s boring details are absent. What is presented, especially if the author has children, reads like an application to Harvard:
Bobby had a terrific summer. After organizing a food drive for the poor in Haiti and being the youngest person ever to swim the English Channel, he finally broke the genetic code and cured cancer. He is super excited to start kindergarten this coming year, as he wants to restructure the curriculum and transform the school lunch program into a vegan-friendly environment.
Leslie is also marvelous. Oh, how we looovee our Leslie! She has just returned from a mission trip to Africa where she personally dug a well for a village using a shovel she forged out of a mixture of discarded rubble and the contents of her makeup bag. Now that she’s home, she intends to finish her doctorate in pediatric medicine while modeling for Vogue in her spare time.
You can also tell who the black sheep of the family is:
Ann is doing well. She, and that guy she married, is moving into an apartment soon. Seems what’s-his-face finally got a job. We pray for them daily.
Oh, it’s all so delicious! And, have I mentioned the obligatory paragraphs re: tragedy and death? This is standard protocol in most holiday letters. There you are, reading happily about the kids and the beach vacation and then BLAM! Faster than you can say Rudolph, everything gets all dark and frosty.
They always start off the same way: “On a sad note ...” or “Perhaps you’ve heard …” And then the gore fest commences. In shocking detail, every minute element of grandpa’s hip replacement fills the page. That, unfortunately, leads to the story of the violent car wreck, where death was avoided only by the grace of God, or the story of the surgical procedure that went terribly wrong. (Some of these authors make Stephen King look like a “Sesame Street” writer.) And then, just when you think you can actually hear the ping of the heart monitor Aunt Jenny is hooked up to, it goes right on back to candy-coated perfection. With a jingle of saintly gratitude, the essayist offers a silver lining, “We realize now it was a blessing” or “I guess we learned a valuable lesson.”
Such plucky optimism these yuletide correspondents have. It makes me all warm inside just thinking about it – but not gushy enough to type up my own tome.
You see, over the years I have realized I simply cannot compete with these superstar families. Yet, with each holiday post I receive from them, I still feel thrilled just to be included on their mailing list. To be honest, I am truly happy for their outstanding accomplishments, even though, by comparison, it makes me look like that kid who stuck his tongue to the pole in “A Christmas Story.” Happily, I’m okay with that. I know the truth – the simple, wonderfully un-remarkable details of my family that make me fiercely proud 365 days a year.
Even though I won’t send out an epistle, I will shoot off a holiday picture. I sure hope it looks good. If it does, then I’m off the hook for not personally saving a rainforest or hand-feeding beached baby whales. The recipient will have to see how happy we are and feel glad we thought of them. But next year, watch out! My boys may just be old enough to change the world, become astronauts or learn how to fly. If that happens, I’ll be sure to write it all down and send it to you, in a five page Christmas letter, with a festive sticker sealing the envelope.