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THE DREADED CHRISTMAS LETTER

December 17, 2000

Well, this year I was more crass than usual. Not only did I bring back “the dreaded Christmas letter,” I even put it on line.. The on- line version has photos (the snail mail version does not), and also has links to web sites that will give you more information than you’ve ever wanted to know about our year.

Of course, a lot of the readers of this journal will have seen most of those links already anyway. I never did understand the reason for the yearly brouhaha about Christmas letters. I haven’t seen anything yet, but you can bet your bippy that either Dear Abby or Ann Landers or someone has already run a “how I hate those terrible Christmas letters” letter. We’ve even had letters to the editor about them in our local paper in previous years.

The way I look at it, it’s to each his own. We’ve had all sorts of Christmas letters from folks. Most of them are delightful. It’s fun to see how the kids have grown, how the parents have aged, how people are handling their new retirement status, how the older older generation is aging. A friend of mine from high school sent out the very best Christmas letter we ever received. It was really a parody of Christmas letters, where her husband had written a very cheery letter regaling people with every bad or boring thing that had happened to them over the past year. Char and her family sent out a newsletter, where each kid wrote his or her own column. Now their oldest daughter, who has two children, is sending out the same kind of newsletter.

The thing about Christmas letters is, whether you love them or hate them, a lot of loving work went into producing them. They are written, designed, laid out. Some are liberally illustrated, like a former co-worker of Walt’s whose family each year sends wonderful letters filled with lots and lots of photos of their activities during the year. And they aren’t cheap to produce either. They either take a lot of ink on a home-printer, or cost to be duplicated at the local Kinko’s. And if they come in color, they will have cost a small fortune to produce.

Of course there is the one letter we get each year where the father is up for the nobel prize, the mother just won Mrs. America and has written a best selling novel, and is getting a TV contract to rival Martha Stewart. The kids are going off to their Mensa meetings right and getting Ph.D.’s, finding cures for Ebola, and planning debuts at Carnegie Hall. Amazing how much Important Stuff this family does each year. I gave up reading the letter years ago (I’ve never met these people), but I do appreciate the effort that goes into producing it each year.

But as pompous as that letter is, I would much rather hear this family sing its praises each year than receive the card we get from Jeri’s godfather and his wife. The last time we saw these people Jeri was about 18 months old (she will celebrate her 35th birthday in 2001). The godfather had just married and was bringing his wife to meet us. It was obvious from the moment she entered the house that we had not Passed Muster. Her nose went up and she sat very aloof during their visit, which was a brief one. I don’t know if it was the house or the kids or the dogs or what. Whatever it was, it was an instant dislike. Thereafter, each year we receive a Christmas card, signed by the wife, which only says “John and Mary Doe.” There is never a message, never a piece of news about their life, never a hint of what has happened with them in the intervening 30+ years since that infamous meeting. I long ago stopped understanding why then even bother sending us a card each year.

I do enjoy getting the photos cards, though. Fun to watch the kids get older. The most impressive photo card we get each year comes from “Maloneyville,” friends of ours from 30 or so years ago when she and I were leading La Leche League meetings. They ended up having something like 10 kids (I’ve lost count) and each year the return address would be: “Maloneyville, Pop. XXX” to indicate the new baby. When the babies stopped coming, the weddings started and each year there would be a family photo of the latest wedding, and then the latest wedding with the latest grandkids. This was the first year there was no photo from Maloneyville, only a letter. I miss it!

But bottom line is, no matter what the card or letter is like, I truly appreciate the time it took to buy the card, address it, stamp it, and mail it. The cost of greeting cards these days is high, postage is ridiculous, I know how long it takes to do a mass mailing, and the mere fact that people continue to reach out to each other once a year, is pretty special.

Of course I had planned to end this entry with a picture of a card Paul sent the year David died. It shows him sitting in a chair, wearing Santa pants and a T-shirt, with a day’s growth of beard. He’s holding a cigarette in one hand and has a bottle of beer on the table next to him. His hair is disheveled and he’s looking beaten down. It came with the wish “Merry f*cking Christmas.” But of course I can’t find the card where I put it so carefully here in my office so I wouldn’t lose it. (I hear snickering in Perth, Alameda and North Hollywood..)

Perhaps it’s just as well.

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