Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Iffy Traditions

We send Christmas cards to people. Left to my own devices, no one would be getting any cardboard in the mail from me. I'm far too lazy to go through all the steps necessary to get a personalized piece of shiny paper into someone else's mailbox. At best, I suppose I could manage a mass email - perhaps some clever animation of a dancing elf sporting my head on its shoulders. So it's my sainted wife who drives the card production process every year while I hang on for the ride and sign my name where I'm told.
Some people love cards, some people hate them. I'm kind of in between. Even though we tend to re-use them for gift tags in our house, they are largely a waste of trees and ink. But I also recognize they are a form of personal recognition during a holiday season dedicated to such things. They are the nod exchanged between passers-by - an acknowledgement that other people exist in your mental inventory of Things That Matter. They are also terribly political - with vague rules about card reciprocation and such.
And then there are the letters. Time was when a few lucky folks on the card list would also get a lovely note in Dee's best handwriting - all for catching up those family details unknown to friends far away. But somewhere in time The Letter has become The Christmas Letter. No longer personal and handwritten, each Christmas card comes equipped with a folded 8.5-by-11 year-in-review in Arial 10-point font.
The Christmas Letter is a much-derided cliche. In the wrong hands, it's a soapbox to announce to everyone you know that you're still rich and successful - surrounded by an adoring family where nothing but blue eyes and blonde hair are allowed into the household gene pool. In the right hands, you get to remind your far-flung familiars that you're the same ol' sad sack you ever were, but getting older.
I enjoy writing the Christmas Letter, and I hope I fall into the latter category. But it's much too easy to fall into the trap of gushing about my kids' school grades and that my cat can jump to the top of the fridge in one leap. Impressive as these things are, I look at it all as a wry joke - a public admission that, yes, we're normal and boring and proceeding down life's path like everyone else.
So far no one is complaining and, in fact, some people tell us they look forward to the annual missive. Then again, they're all so polite...