The Dreaded Christmas Letter

When I was younger I eagerly awaited Christmas card season every year. It wasn't for those dreary religious scenes, nondenominational holly, fluffed-up family portraits or hokey animals in a snowy woodland. I wanted the soft chewy center: The Christmas Letter.

Every year my mother and I would remove the mimeographed (yes, I'm that old!) papers from inside the cards and set aside time to hoot over them. Over the years since then, Christmas letters have become fodder for many parodies, but, as Ashford & Simpson would tell you, ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

There's a special joy in analyzing twisted truths and translating their hidden reality. For a real holiday treat, cook up some Swiss Miss and settle in while you develop the psychological profiles that explain the underlying insecurity, narcissism and lack of humility behind the blatant bragging and truth-stretching.

"Our beloved son is exploring his professional options, and lately has been considering the legal field." Translation: He's trying to get his felony conviction stricken from the public records so he doesn't have to keep putting it on his fast food job applications.

"Currently I'm involved in a new nonprofit organization to try and make meaningful changes in the status quo in my area. It's an uphill battle but as those who know me can attest, nothing can stop me in my quest for justice." Translation: As the lone voice of opposition to a project everyone around me favors, I've become a neighborhood pariah and have taken to sleeping with a gun under my pillow.

Also amusing is poking fun at the letters with gimmicks, such as those written by the family dog. ("The big one I call Master was congratulating the little one I call Tail Puller the other day. Something about 'good grades,' whatever that means. They walk on two legs, so their voices are somewhere up around the ceiling and I can't always tell exactly what's going on.") Parodies of Martha Stewart and Santa Claus making out his list never fail to fail to amuse.

Then there are the ones that are unintentionally hilarious by nature of their somber tone: "We've calculated that 67.4% of our extended family suffers from 'Morgenstern Toe,' a painful condition where the fourth toe bends over to scratch the third. We're voluntarily participating in DNA testing to identify the gene that causes this and are hoping our dedication can help others who have similar 'crosses to bear.' So we can't say 'at least we have our health,' but we can say 'we're working on it.' "

Travel, marriages/births and family achievements are popular Christmas letter topics, offset by the perennial death, divorce and public humiliation. Where did you go this year and how exotic can you make Cleveland sound? Who got married and had a kid, not necessarily in that order? Who was named a Rhodes scholar but never comes to visit any more? Who died and from what? Who was cheated on, abandoned, or otherwise left by the side of the marital road? Who was indicted, prosecuted, deposed, exposed, run out of town on a rail or picked up in a men's room in Minneapolis--and how can you make it sound like a good thing?

The letters I loved the most were from my mother's high school and college friends I had never met and she hadn't seen in decades. Their entire relationship had devolved into that of Christmas Correspondents, a special category of former friends about whom you know nothing current except what you can glean from their Christmas Letters. When I read about obscure Little League games in which some kid I would never meet hit the winning home run, or the cum laude graduation of a stranger I could despise sans guilt, I felt a special bond with my mother. There was a reason she wasn't in touch with these people the other 11 months of the year, and she enjoyed my company enough to share with me the reasons why.

1 comment:

  1. A brand new approach to the Christmas letter--and very funny.

    Dear friend,
    In lieu of a gift or card, we donated money to the Wildlife Waystation, American Forests Re-Forestation effort, to Ron Paul for President and to the Jamie Leigh Foundation. But you guys know I wasn't going to send a gift anyway. And what do you care how I spend my money? Why now in December versus June?

    The truth is you don't care. And you shouldn't. And it's stupid to think that we should spend our money in a holier-than-thou way, and blather all about our little causes and reasoning. Just what you need - more hype and more 'fake news'. It's very hypocritical UNLESS you mix the good in with the bad. This being the case, we'd like to give you a brief overview of all the useless and ridiculous crap we purchased over the last year.

    Because you're not stupid. You know that we didn't send you a gift because we're either A) lazy or B) like spending money on ourselves. And it's naive for us to believe that you buy our cover-up for the real problems here - our crap use of our budget. Here are some of the cock-ups that we did with the money (OUR money, not your money to dictate):

    ---CRAPPY FOOD. At least six cases of Cup O Noodles, as well as varied and pricey instant noodle packs from supermarkets in Little Tokyo. They're not good for you. They taste good. I'm splitting atoms here, but you get the idea. I didn't need it. But I took it. I like Ben & Jerry's. Didn't need it. But so what.

    ---VACATION SHIRTS. Did you know that an XL shirt in England or Mexico is not the same as an XL shirt in the US? Did you also know that eating six cases of Cup O Noodles in one year makes you too big to wear an XL shirt from another country? I live with this terror every day - it's a silent terror though.

    ---A SECOND HORSE. If you can only ride one horse at a time, why have a second? So they can discuss on how to steal your car keys and take off for the high desert? They're smarter than all get out. Giving each of them a potential accomplice will be our ruin.

    ---A POOL MAN TO COME EVERY WEEK. When our economy comes to a crushing halt in the next four months and the dollar is replaced by something a little more stable (enter your favorite currency here), our household will look back at my inability to learn how to put chlorine into a body of water. I have to pay someone else to do this, utilizing products that I can buy myself at the store. Why? Maybe its a project for me over vacation. Maybe not. You're asking me about my money habits, not my personal betterment habits.

    ---SEASONAL PLANTS THAT ARE SENTENCED TO DIE. Mums, daisies, poinsettias. They're pretty and nice, but they've got a death warrant. They're not making it year round. Won't happen. Hasn't happened yet. Yet we keep buying them.

    ---TICKETS TO THE ANGELS / RED SOX SERIES. I could have sold them to the four Red Sox fans at Barney's Beanery. But pride stood in the way. I should have remembered Marcellus Wallace's words about pride.

    ---DANCEHALL MIXTAPES & CD'S. Not one good release this year that I've heard. Movado didn't get to the point quick enough and Voicemail was horrible. Even the Mr. Perfect record was uneven. But I'm a sucker for Santee Alley and Canal Street - I see them, I buy them. There's no really good reggae radio station available anyways.

    ---SLINGBOX. Haven't put it together. Don't have the patience. Trying to avoid TV anyway. It sits there and mocks us.

    ---TICKETS TO SEE QUEENS PARK RANGERS V. NORWICH. There's a big gap - a BIG gap - between the Premier League and Division I football in England. It's better than the MLS by miles, but still. $50 a ticket to see a really paltry event. Could have used the money to see Pumas or Cruz Azul at the Home Depot. Could've, should've, would've.


    Have a great week off if possible.


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