There are so many things to write about during this time of year. So many emotions to emote. So many thoughts to jot down, each Christmas season holding its own promise of a good story or two but there was one tiny part of the whole preparations for the Big Day that always seemed to have put an abrupt end to the harmony in many a home. It was the arrival of THAT annual "Christmas Letter" that would put the brakes on the sharing of glad tidings and send families searching for a community vomitorium.
Varying in length, depending upon the magnitude of the past year's family accomplishments, the letter would show up in between the beautiful, heartfelt Hallmarks. On more than one occasion, Mom would open a card and let out a little sigh or even a tiny gasp when she read the side note, handwritten in a space in between the card company's expressions of God's joy and prayers for peace on earth.
"John passed from this life early in the year. Life will never be the same but we're coping".
"Mary and Bill are finally getting married. We're all so thrilled, he's a great guy"
"We welcomed Baby James in March. None of us has slept since"
Each year, Mom and Dad would get out the address book, add a few names and strike out a few. Some would simply be altered to correct what would have been a horrible error the following Christmas, as in the case of Mr and Mrs.John's wife who is now simply, Margaret. Each year, the number of cards dwindled. Friends who died or went into nursing homes. Friends who decided that it was too much of a chore or too emotionally or physically painful to write and send cards. Those little notes from the year before were so often a portend of what was to come and assumptions could not help but be made.
But, through it all, good times, bad times, deaths, engagements, marriages, births and divorces, came at least one annual "letter". Pages and pages of typewritten self-aggrandizement. Advertisements for the World's Most Perfect Family Contest. One could almost see the tear-it-off-and-mail-it-in ballot at the end of the diatribe. I'm surprised they did not contain a self addressed stamped envelope! Each year, we would all gather around, usually with my mother's sister and her family, to share in the reading of their cousin's letter from "abroad". Little did Cousin from Abroad know that instead of oohs and aahs, the annual application to Harvard would be met with snickers and comments. We kids dreaded this whole thing because after the snickers, we usually got slapped in the head for our under performance during the same year that.......
"Little Lizzie, the amazing tiny athlete that she is, has been pre-selected by the Olympic ski team who spotted her on the slopes in Zurich in February when she and one hundred of her best friends were there celebrating her third birthday"
Husbands dreaded the arrival because.....
"Well, you know that Ephram, he's such a thoughtful man. It isn't enough that he needs a pick up truck to collect his Christmas bonus, but he got a raise again this year and he just could not help himself when we passed Bulgari on the Champs Elysee when in Paris celebrating. We popped in, he got down on his knees and proposed to me all over again with a HUGE diamond that just happened to fit!! He's so romantic, isn't he?"
Slap, slap...."Go take the trash out Charlie, NOW!!!"
The moms, well, honestly, they just dreaded the entire thing. Sitting there in the kitchen of the upstairs unit of our duplex home, my mother and Aunt Millie, both dressed in their finest cotton house dresses, each held her own copy of the newly arrived greeting and, after the Bronx cheers, the slapping of the kids and the banishing of the husbands, the coffee went on and the Kleenex box came out.
While visiting my daughter yesterday, I could not help noticing the huge number of photo greeting cards taped to the wall in her living room. She explained to me that this is the new "thing", that everyone feels compelled to send a photo card, and it has become almost like a competition. I'm guessing this has replaced the annual catch-up letter. I enjoyed the display, loved seeing some of the kids who I've known, vicariously, just a bit more grown up this year. The cards are pretty, some quite unique, one of them even shows a family totally dressed in Disney costumes, a tradition for them. I see cards with multiple photos, each telling a story, where they've been, what sports the kids are in, new baby sisters and brothers. Stories, simply put forth by happy and proud parents. These are fun, nice expressions of glad tidings, at least by those that actually displayed words that had anything to do with Christmas and it's true meaning.
Each year, our own collection of cards is dwindling as our collection of friends is growing. That makes no sense except for the fact that we get to personally wish people Merry Christmas, no card needed. Some of our noblest friends have elected to send contributions to charities in lieu of cards and we think that is wonderful, truly.
We've received a few photo cards from friends of our kids and a few from proud grandparents who capture the entire family during their annual family reunion. Gone are the days of the "letter", not missed.
Now, I'm just looking forward to the day when fully grown, mature adults no longer find the need to send cards displaying photos of themselves, not a kid to be found in the foreground or background. I simply do not get this "tradition" and personally, I think it ridiculous rather than charming. But, I write essays and opinions and if you didn't enjoy what I have to say from time to time, you probably are not reading this.
So, frankly, I'd much rather get the little note, or maybe even the letter. It would beat those photos of you and your spouse......getting old.......while we aren't. Just my opinion.