Boots crunching on the icy grass, I make my way to my mailbox. As I crack open the frozen little door, I find 18 catalogs, four bills, and six plump white envelopes with festive stickers and our family’s name and address in cursive writing. Yes, it’s December—time to open those little grenades that are also known as Family Christmas Letters. Love ’em or hate ’em, they will arrive nonetheless; 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 rhyme to mimic “The Night Before Christmas,” or told from the dog’s perspective, these yearly updates are riddled with misspellings and chock full of twinkling embellishments. All of life’s boring details are absent. What you read, especially if the author has children, sounds like the personal essay in an application to Harvard:
“Bobby had a terrific summer. After organizing a food drive 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 to include vegan-friendly offerings.
Leslie is also marvelous. Oh how we do looovee our Leslie! She has just returned from a humanitarian trip to Africa where she dug a well for an entire village, using a shovel that she forged out of discarded rubble and the contents of her make-up 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 is the family’s black sheep:
“Ann is doing well. She and that guy she married are moving into an apartment soon. Seems what’s-his-face finally got a job. We pray for them daily.”
Bring on the Gore-fest
Ooooh, it’s all so delicious! And did I mention 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 begins.
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, or the surgical procedure that went terribly wrong. And then, just when you think you can actually hear the ping of Aunt Jenny’s heart monitor, it goes right on back to candy-coated perfection. With a jingle of saintly gratitude, the essayist adds, “We realize now it was a blessing,” or “I guess we learned a valuable lesson.” Such plucky optimism! It makes me all warm inside . . . but not enough to type my own tome.
You see, over the years I have realized I simply cannot compete with these superstar families. Of course, with each holiday post I receive from them, I feel thrilled just to be included on their mailing list, and I am truly happy for their outstanding accomplishments. Yet, I know the simple, wonderful, unremarkable details of my family 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 recipients 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 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. f
What's the funniest thing you've ever read in a holiday letter you've received? Let us in on the laugh, comment below!