Karin writes our family’s annual Christmas letters because I don’t know how.
God knows I’ve tried, but my efforts are unfit for public consumption. Early in our marriage, she took on this job. You’d think I’d do it—I was writing professionally at the time. But the problem was, I couldn’t break out of my crime-beat reporting style.
My efforts would go like this…
“The cute puppy you saw in last year’s letter is no longer with us. ‘Radar’ was taken-away by the ‘Retriever-Rescue-Society’ after he was found guilty of several acts of malicious mischief, including chewing on our antique mahogany table and destroying the back-yard’ sprinkler system—killing an innocent tree in the process.
“Despite leniency and repeated efforts at rehabilitation, Radar bit Robb while playing fetch. The dog—not Robb.”
“We paid for dance lessons all year, but didn’t go to the recital because XXXX (name redacted) stuck her head through a pane of glass just as we were heading out the door. So she ended up doing pirouettes in the ER and bleeding profusely all over her pink, furry costume while the rest of her class danced the ‘Bunny Hop’ without her.
“Charges are still pending… on our credit card.”
“XXXX almost failed math, despite getting the top scores on all his exams, because he refused to do a single homework assignment. ‘They’re busywork, and stupid’ XXXX was quoted as saying during one of many parent-teacher meetings conveyed in his honor.”
“Robb coached soccer for the fourth straight year and set a new league record for having the most parents tell him that he had ‘NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL HE WAS DOING.’ And he almost got a special, non-achievement award when another father threatened to punch Robb in the face after the man’s daughter was injured on the field.”
“And after four years of waiting to see our child get a prize role in the high school’s Club Cougar production, XXXX was dropped from the show for oversleeping and missing too many Saturday rehearsals.”
“The highlight of our trip to Bakersfield was when our VW Van sputtered to a stop in Merced, and Robb repaired the fuel pump, lying under the car in a puddle of gasoline. He smelled so bad the rest of the trip that everyone got carsick.”
All these things actually happened, yet they’re not tidbits to put in a Christmas letter. I know this because I read the letters we get from other people, who apparently live on another planet, one where kids do their homework gleefully, don’t suffer bizarre injuries, and who manage coach their kids successfully into state championships, year after year.
These are the same parents whose children’s report cards are coated in platinum and sent to the Smithsonian. Like their children, their pets are born obedience-trained with blue-blooded pedigree-papers. The family’s summers include trips to Fiji to witness a full solar eclipse while dining with Oprah. Their letters include pictures of sun-roasted gentry, who look like they just stepped out of a Neiman Marcus catalog, and of homes are so stunning that they’re toured by architecture students from around the world.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
Perhaps you’ve gotten a letter like this. It’s usually from someone who hasn’t actually spoken to you in a long, long, time, and wouldn’t recognize you from Homer Simpson in your “employee of the month” photo. These are the friends who went to college with you, or lived next door oh-so-long-ago, and who’ve gone on to fame and fortune while you were standing in line at the DMV.
Of course not all letters are like this.
There are those written by your more mundane friends. They intend to call, but it’s always one thing or another just as they pick up the phone. Take last summer, their garage was flooded when the water heater burst while they were out on their big summer vacation—tent-camping in Death Valley. Or the time that the lawn mower threw a sprinkler head through the front-room window. Their letter is a way of saying, sheepishly, that they’re sorry they went missing and didn’t RSVP during your big 4th-of-July BBQ.
These folks don’t sound boastful because they’re not trying to impress anyone. They’re too busy paying off their line-of-credit with the vet they racked up when poor Doofus-the-Dog was rushed into emergency-surgery after eating a Sponge Bob bath towel.
Ah, so that’s why they didn’t go to Disneyland.
Your friends don’t have much to report, other than their kids finished the year with the same number of fingers and toes that they started with, but still managed to outgrow their clothes twice over. The photos—if you’d save them year-to-year and compare them—show a red Elmo sweater getting handed down the line, one kid at a time, from their oldest to their youngest.
I like these letters, because they sound like life over at their place is not-so-different as life here at our home.
Lately, though, I’m not seeing nearly as many of either kind of letter. This year Karin and I have gotten a few cards, and most have only a signature.
No photos. No letter.
I guess Facebook is killing this tradition, and that’s too bad. Despite it all, the Christmas-spin-letter at least depicted how we’d LIKE to see ourselves, for better or for worse. And now that social media is pervasive, we have way more information than we’d ever hope to learn in any letter. It’s scary. If you “friend” your friends’ kids, you’ll know more about what REALLY happens over there than you’d learn from reading their records with the NSA.
Given this though, Christmas letters might still have a roll to fill. They could be a sort of “for the record” correction to the daily torrent of Tweets.
Maybe we could do something like this:
“Contrary to what is widely believed, we do not sit around in our underwear until noon on Saturdays eating Screaming Yellow Zonkers.”
“And there’s a perfectly logical explanation for our home was under police surveillance.”
“The photos that were uploaded last month had been digitally altered and in no way reflect the amount of actual dirt on our countertops or unwashed laundry scattered about our house.”
Or… you get the picture.
We’ll have to wait and see if this idea catches on. But until then, I still hope to see Christmas letters in my mailbox because at their best, they’re not about one-upmanship. They’re a chance to reflect on the last 12 months and no matter what’s happened, hope that next year somehow will be better—sweeter and kinder.
I do appreciate those intrepid folks who take the time to handwrite a personal note, and I respect the effort Karin puts into keeping in touch with our friends, especially those we seldom see. She lets them know that we still feel bonds of affection and hope they’ll prosper in the year to come.
So even if you don’t get a personal letter from me this year, know that’s what I’m hoping for you all.
I’d write, but I’m just so busy waxing my Ferrari.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.