● By Wendy Sipple
Illustration by John Stricker
I love Christmas letters. Seriously I do. They’re generic, impersonal gifts wrapped in the glossy paper of self-absorption.
I look forward to them as much as I do It’s A Wonderful Life.
Now, I’ll confess up front: I send one. I include lots of pictures – mostly of the kids – and by the time I’ve arranged the photos and text, it’s virtually a newsletter. Last year’s was three pages, which in the context of self-absorption, makes me a roll of Brawny paper towels. So if I’m being honest, my favorable anticipation of Christmas letters is probably to offset the guilt of sending one myself.
But I still like ‘em. From the generic greeting at the top (one started “Dear_________,” and in the blank it said “Tom and Valerie.” My wife’s name is Vickie)... to the not-always-subtle hints that various children, spouses or pets might just be superior to whatever riff-raff makes up your family. We get one every year from some nice folks whom my wife nannied for years ago. They’re rich. Really rich...they flew us both to Hawaii one time, first class, and put us up for a week in a Ritz-Carlton so that my wife could watch their kids while they snorkeled. For 17 Christmases now, we have been kept up-to-date on things like their dilemma in choosing the right preparatory school for their son with the 4.3 GPA (the same one my wife had to keep from eating his own poop), how confusing the choices can be when you have to buy a new jet, not to mention the international complications of trying to buy an apartment for your oldest daughter because she wants to live in Paris for a year.
But they’re not all spotless press releases; there’s a couple of people who we were only close to for a few months in the mid-90s, who still send us a holiday one-page that reads like a print-out from WebMD: bunions, bad backs, ingrown thumbnails and, my favorite, oral cold sores that lasted for weeks and made it “difficult to eat Mexican food.” My wife has a cousin in Montana whose letters’ sole purpose seem to be keeping her side of the family updated on which cousins have been arrested or paroled. And I have a friend from high school whose spelling and grammatical errors are poignant reminders of all the English classes he skipped. My all-time-favorite snafu of his was the time he bragged about how good his wife’s cooking was getting, especially her “asseroles”. I have no idea how spell check missed that one.
Nowadays, instant modes of communication are making things like Christmas letters seem quaint and endangered. Why save up a year’s worth of personal trivia when you can compulsively post it on Facebook all year long? Even actual Christmas cards are being replaced by e-greetings with animation, music...everything but a little heart and soul.
So, despite being frequently self-centered and impersonal, I still appreciate the time and (relative) reflection that goes into the Christmas letter. I can tolerate reading how fast an ingrown nail became infected or how tough it was for little “So-and-So the Third” to choose between Yale or Stanford because once in a while, you’ll read that an old friend’s son overcame dyslexia to graduate with honors, or Aunt Rita’s cancer has gone into remission, or cousin Ashley just shipped off to Iraq for a year. And that’s news I can use.
So, keep ‘em comin’. Just remember, it’s Tom and Vickie, not Valerie.
Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1.