Christmas Letters

December 3, 2004 | 29 comments
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Aaargh–’tis the season for those yuletide roundups of the activities of everyone’s perfect families and overachieving children. A couple of years ago, I decided to fight back with this parody, which I mailed on April Fools’ Day:
Dear Family and Friends,

We are positively mortified to be sending you our annual greeting at this strange time of year, but, honestly, with all the very important busy-ness of our lives, it feels like Thanksgiving was just yesterday, and Christmas flew by like a quick little snow flurry. So, a belated rundown of our 2002 activities:

Steve, as many of you may know, was named to succeed Dean O’Hare as CEO of Chubb. Unlike his predecessor, Steve has promised not to start feuds with the neighbors over noisy lawn equipment or tan himself into leather. However, Steve does plan to change Chubb’s name (finally!) to something spiffy, like Directure or Insuria, and then create the world’s biggest and best insurance company ever (though of course he’s too modest to ever say so).

Kristine just finished her 3rd book tour—she was as surprised as anyone by the runaway success of her first book, _Alive at Five: Stay-at-Home Mothering Without Violence_. We have all learned a lot about the privileges and responsibilities of being the author of a New York Times Bestseller. Of course, it wouldn’t be fitting to shirk her mothering responsibilities to promote a book about the joys (or whatever) of domestic goddesshood, so Kristine learned to fly her own Concorde so she could be home in time to cook a nutritious gourmet meal for us every night, even when she was on tour.

Peter, now age 6 (we can hardly believe it!), is busy doing the things six-year-olds do: he has finished all the Harry Potter books and moved on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He had a tough decision to make this year when he decided NOT to go to the NBA draft straight out of YMCA kindergarten basketball, but we all feel like it was the right decision.

Louisa was elected President of her preschool class and won awards for Most Unusual Fingerpainting and Outstanding Project with Glue. Also, she has earned so many “Student of the Month” bumper stickers that Kristine was recently pulled over by a police officer who wanted to know if we could still see out the rear window of the minivan. We can (just barely).

And Sam, our littlest darling, is a very remarkable two-year-old. He looks set to skip preschool and go straight to college (as soon as he is potty-trained). He and Kristine have been learning classical Greek together during their breaks from practicing for the national spelling bee and memorizing the encyclopedia. He also keeps us busy with a part-time modeling job for “Sutures and Fractures Quarterly,” a journal for Emergency Room physicians.

We hope all of you have had as successful a year as we have, and most of all, we wish you a very merry APRIL FOOLS’ DAY!

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29 Responses to Christmas Letters

  1. CJ on December 3, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you. I’m glad I’m not the only one that has been annoyed at the unabashed boasting of those letters. Your humorous take is much more fun, too!

  2. Ethesis (Stephen M) on December 3, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    I’ve been thinking of starting ours ….

    “Well, this year we spent four and a half months washing dishes out of the bathtub due to delays in the kitchen remodeling — and that was before we got burglarized, anyway …”

  3. gst on December 3, 2004 at 1:14 pm

    My dad took the genre to a whole new level by asking each recipient to mail him a dollar.

  4. maria on December 3, 2004 at 1:22 pm

    Last year I received a Christmas letter that was 2 pages long–single spaced, 8 pt font, with no paragraph breaks. Why any distant acquaintance would want to know that much detail about what someone else’s two year old is doing is beyond me. I stopped reading about 10 lines in when the potting training adventure stories began…Seriously painful to look at, let alone to read!

  5. Randy on December 3, 2004 at 1:27 pm

    Like everyone else, I hate most Christmas letters we get. In the one we send out, we have made it a tradition to do nothing but poke fun at ourselves. I don’t know how much other people enjoy them, but they are much more fun to write.

  6. Silus Grok on December 3, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    I have been told that my yearly missives are charming and a high-point of the day they’re received.

    But I’m extra-ordinary.

  7. Adam Greenwood on December 3, 2004 at 1:42 pm

    Kristine was embarassed that she started to cry when she received her Pulitzer for best Christmas letter. But Steve and the kids loved it!

  8. john fowles on December 3, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    I like getting people’s Christmas letters and hearing what they are doing. Never really thought that the recipients of my own short Christmas cards or letters would think my wife and I were boasting.

  9. Rosalynde Welch on December 3, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    Funny how only good news seems legible in the year-end family newsletters, whereas only bad news seems legible in year-end media news roundups. Is this merely a difference in genre, or is there something else going on?

    And okay, okay, I know, everybody hates the Christmas letters. Except me. I love them! I read them hungrily–my mother keeps them in a large basket on the kitchen island, and when I’m home for Christmas I read every last sentence, even from folks I don’t know.

    Of course, that’s probably because my own family and accomplishments so easily trump anybody else’s that it gives me a self-satisfied thrill.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on December 3, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    Except me and John Fowles, apparently. John, you stay on the list this year!

  11. Adam Greenwood on December 3, 2004 at 1:55 pm

    I like Christmas letters too. Either they’re informative and heartwarming, or they’re boastful and I can feel morally superior. :)

    But I like Christmas letter parodies even more.

  12. Shawn Bailey on December 3, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    I am also a fan of the genre, particulary those that convey news (even if it is good news that may be taken as boasting!) in a clever way. One of my wife’s relatives did a memorable series of holiday letters written from the viewpoint of an endearingly crazy (and fictitious) neighbor that had been spying on them.

    Our family’s, made in the format of a rather shoddy newspaper, the Bailey Planet, will soon be coming off the presses and delievered to our subscribers, er … long-suffering family and friends.

  13. Aaron Brown on December 3, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    I really hate stupid Christmas letters too. I read them only to make fun of them, but this year I’ll make an exception and invite all you Bloggernackers to send me copies of your sappy prose. My address is:

    Aaron Brown
    P.O. Box 75397
    Los Angeles, CA
    90075

    Thanks in advance.

    Aaron B

  14. Kevin Barney on December 3, 2004 at 2:41 pm

    We try to be creative with ours, and they have generally been well received (although I’m sure some of the older recipients must scratch their heads every year when they see our annual letter).

    One year, my wife wrote our letter as a multiple choice quiz. Another year, my artist daughter drew pictures of each of the four of us in the style of South Park characters. This year, I composed limericks (one for each of the four us and a joint one from all of us), with footnotes to convey the real news (which can be pretty hard to fit into a limerick!)

  15. john fowles on December 3, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    I also like seeing an updated picture of the family, which is often sent with such family Christmas updates.

  16. Keith on December 3, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    I like the Christmas letters we get–especially those that compile a list of funny, odd things the kids have said or done (as in Julie’s blog the other day). The creative ones are good too.

    I may shamelessly steal Kevin Barney’s idea of the multiple choice quiz for this year.

  17. Kristine on December 3, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    I actually really like them, too; it’s just that by around mid-December I start feeling small and inadequate. There’s a large quotient of sour grapes in my smug parody.

  18. Mark B on December 3, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    Sorry to see you back down in the face of that tsunami of sentimentality, Kristine. Times like this demand firmness, and if you want to be on the side of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Grinch, Simon Legree and H.L. Mencken (oh, how he would have loved getting a whole avalanche of the things!), then it’s time to be a Mensch and blast those Yuletime yammerers for all they’re worth! Besides, to paraphrase Leo Rosten, sort of, “Anybody who hates children, Christmas letters and dogs can’t be all bad.”

    Even better than the mind-numbing detail about the state of perfection achieved by the writers’ children is the serious tone that some letters achieve: “In this time of great national peril . . .” And, no, that one wasn’t signed Jeremiah.

    Similar, at least in the Lamentations-like tone, was the letter we received each year from friends of my parents, where despite the misery of life generally, the writer wished us all the merriest of Christmases.

    The best Christmas letter I ever saw (and this is serious) was a note my parents got one year from Marden Clark, late of the English faculty at BYU. He wrote a poem, a real poem, about God’s gift of His Son. To paraphrase Moses, sort of, “Would that all God’s people could be poets!”

  19. Kristine on December 3, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    “Would that all God’s people could be poets!�

    Amen!! Especially if they could all be like Marden Clark. One of my treasures is a little volume of his essays called _Liberating Form_. It’s a remarkable little book. I wish I had known him (and been on his Christmas card list!).

  20. john fowles on December 3, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    Mark B., I would’ve thought that being a Mensch, or mensh to be true to the Yiddish, would make one tolerant of other people’s Christmas letters.

  21. Mark B on December 3, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    John Fowles–

    Thanks for the fix on the spelling–I guess it’s the high school German from a third of a century ago rearing its ugly head.

    As to how a true mensh would react . . . hmm, maybe I got that wrong too. Ah, well, my guess is that the true Yiddish-speaking menshes don’t get many Christmas letters.

    Kristine–

    “Liberating Form” was the title of an Ensign article that Bro. Clark wrote, published in June 1977. A longer version (so says the lead-in to the Ensign article) was published in the Autumn 1974 BYU Studies. I’d supply a link, but am technically challenged. Search Church Magazines at lds.org, with the title in quotation marks. A great little piece, even in the abridged version–makes me want to borrow your copy of the book–I’ll let you look at my Brooklyn Ward book with Hakon the ur-Haglund’s pictures in it in exchange.

  22. Mark B on December 3, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    Rats. Failed to turn off the italics.

  23. Kristine on December 3, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    Mark, I’ll bring it to the next blorgy :)

  24. Rob Briggs on December 4, 2004 at 3:31 am

    I’m like Rosalynde; I look forward to reading them; I love the pictures & I even save them (Treasures of Truth, you know). Several writers in particular I always look forward to — because they’re honest, talented writers. But, yes, there are some I just love to hate. Still, in our horizontally & vertically displaced world, it’s a good way to maintain some contact with distant family & friends.

    Speaking of writing, thread author Kristine has a piece in the last issue of Dialogue. Congrats!!

  25. Kevin Barney on December 4, 2004 at 12:29 pm

    Yes, Kristine, I saw your name on the article but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But I add my congrats to Rob’s.

  26. Ed Enochs on December 4, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Is it ok for an Evangelical to be on this site?

  27. Weston C on December 5, 2004 at 12:21 am

    Parody’s a good start for hitting christmas letter syndrome, but I often think the real cure for it is personal narrative. The whole point of Christmas Card letters — beyond hubris, I suppose — is really that you can’t write letters to everyone you know. So many people respond by emulating the form that alumni magazines publish news about their members in — accomplishments, progressions, promotions, etc.

    This could be because writing about thoughts and feelings is uncomfortable, given the wide audience. But somehow I suspect that it’s simply an unfamiliar form — personal letters are the closest most people come, and when they shift their ideas mentally to a larger audience, they lose the grip on sharing thoughs and feelings and move to news.

    I also suspect, however, that if more people wrote personal / narrative style letters for Christmas Cards, between the power of example and the loathing that’s just about at critical mass of the conventional brag letter, it would prove to be a tipping point, and things would change direction. Until, of course, the next generation gets sick of navel-gazing narratives and begins to pine for the days of fruitcake and action…

  28. gaymormonchef on December 5, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    One year we got a letter that was beyond sad. Not a parody at all; the matriarch of the family decided to tell it like it was, and it was worse than a country song. People died, jobs were lost, children ran away and the father’s family had all become FLDS. There was even a collage of pictures on the back, with an arrow pointing out the missing rebellious child. It was depressing, but in some way comforting hearing other folk’s misery. We all sat around after reading it and seriously counted our blessings, and also thought about how a bad news letter from our family might read: not that bad at all.

  29. Jenn on December 11, 2004 at 7:18 am

    I would love some new creative ideas of presentation of the annual family Christmas letter

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