By Louise Ure
They all start the same way. “Dear” and then a blank space with my name written in, in a nun-taught cursive style I haven’t seen since my parochial school days. What’s up with that? Even Nancy Pelosi has figured out how to send me a group letter with my name included in the typed salutation. But, no. I get Dear Blank, or worse, Dear Friends, as if we are too numerous and homogenous to bother remembering our individual identities.
Their popularity has waxed and waned over the years, but they never entirely go away. The Dreaded Christmas Letters.
Most of the ones I receive are from hometown and high school friends. Only three come from fellow writers. But even the writers seem to forget all the basic rules of social communication and good storytelling in their oeuvres.
My oldest Christmas Letter-correspondent’s annual missive reads like a travelogue. “We spent April in Siena (I dream of that pasta sometimes!) and May with the folks at Big Bear Lake so we sure needed that getaway for just the two of us at the house in Cabo to recuperate.” Feh. Does she even consider that some of us haven’t left our zip code for the last nine months?
If they have kids, no feat or skill is too small to mention. Little Scottie learned to read by his first birthday and he’s the darling of his pre-kindergarten soccer team. Cassidy might have scored 749 on the SATs, but if not, her ballet teacher’s comment that “she’s the next Maria Tallchief!” will feature prominently. The ne’er-do-well 26-year old who still lives with his parents and thought a job at McDonald’s was beneath him is “acting as the DJ at local parties and wowing the girls with his bright blue eyes.” I hope he gets crabs.
Then there are the organ recitals. “Myrna’s blood count continues read like an IQ score.” “Tom threw his back out in May and I swear, between the heat packs and muscle relaxants, we’re keeping Walgreens in business!” When they start to describe bowel movements, I quit.
Then there are the … what shall I call them … the creative types. The ones who have rewritten The Night Before Christmas to include the names of all their children and pets and have somehow managed to get the husband’s promotion at B of A to scan into the proper meter as well. The ones who rhyme quatrains divided by what they did each month.
And the pictures! Have you ever seen a more toothsome group? I swear, every one of my Christmas Letter pals is related to a dentist.
Once, just one, I’d like to get a Christmas letter that reflected the reality of life. Or even a Christmas letter that included one of the following sentences:
- “Maggie dipped a toe into the world of heroin this year … not a lot, you understand, just experimenting … but the police didn’t see it that way.”
- “Fido had a litter of seven puppies we couldn’t find homes for and the cat got hit chasing a car. Isn’t life supposed to go the other way around?”
- “We were so proud to see Jake turn sixteen and get his driver’s license. And the new Prius we bought after Jake crashed the old Chevy gets much better mileage. I’ll bet we’re saving $200 a month, if you don’t include the new car payments.”
- “Who knew you couldn’t stuff a cold turkey with hot dressing? Fortunately, my mother-in-law was the only one whose food poisoning required overnight hospitalization.”
- “We took our vacation at my folks house this year. Well, not so much vacation as we moved in there. Please note the new address on the envelope! I never realized how nice their basement was when I was growing up. Back then we just thought of it as a place to store old furniture.”
It’s not that I wish bad news on my friends; I just want their Christmas Letters to sound like non-fiction instead of fantasy. And I want to feel like my life is maybe not so removed from the norm out there.
Tell you what. Next year don’t bother writing my name in by hand. Just leave it Dear Blank. That’s closer to how I’m usually feeling as the end of the year rolls around anyway.
Or better yet, send me one of those notes like Tim Robbins left under the wall for Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption: “Louise, if you’re reading this note then I know you made it through the year. I’ve done what I told you I’d do; I made it to that town I dreamed about. Pack up Bruce and the dog and come join me. I’ll have the margaritas waiting.”
Merry Christmas to you all! And here’s my Christmas present to all the writers here: Charles Dickens’ handwritten revisions to A Christmas Carol. It’s so nice to see that even he had the never-ending revision bug.
P.S. Don’t believe the snarky, Grinch-like tone of this post. I ‘m looking forward to a quiet, peaceful and loving Christmas season and hope the same for all of you, even the Christmas Letter-writers.