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Oh No! The Generic Family Holiday Christmas Letters are Coming!

December 16, 2008

Okay folks, this story has nothing to do with business, or spirituality, or faith or Christianity, or any of that. So if you came here today looking for spiritual edification, time to click back over to the Chuck Swindoll or the High Calling site. But, this post is about Christmas! So that might interest you, right? It’ s only a few days away! This is just pure creative writing fun – and maybe you can even relate to it! From me, to you, Merry Christmas! Brad

Each year as Christmas approaches we get a number of Christmas Holiday letters from friends and family. Of course we enjoy reading them, but there is an alarming trend of generic-style family newsletters dramatically on the rise. These impersonal summaries of the mundane accomplishments of the children, grandchildren and pets are now a firmly established tradition, especially among the churched. I don’t know who started it, or why it has caught on so fast, or why these people think the world will be so interested in their lives, but I would wager the generic Christmas Newsletter is here to stay.

In my tribe, there’s one particular family that truly outshines all the other newsletters each and every year — in a bad way. This particular writer pushes the limits, goes over the top, above and beyond your most distasteful imagination. If there were a contest in Parade Magazine for the most obnoxious Christmas Letter in America, this family would be certain to win, hands down. Each year as we anticipate the arrival of the “letter” in question, we assure ourselves that there is simply no possibility of them outdoing their previous atrocity, or that surely this season some level of awareness would dawn on the unwitting writers regarding their poor taste and blatant elitism. Or, we hope that perhaps a gentle but firm suggestion has made its way from some close kin, advising them to tone it down a bit. But, alas, each Christmas season appears a newsletter more vile, more self-promoting and one-upping than the year before.

The saddest part about it is that we know their lives are not as great as their letter makes it appear. Everybody knows. We know about their struggles, the days-at-a-time without getting out of bed depression, the social isolation, and the marital strain. So what? Each of us has our own set of unpleasantries to deal with. Why go so far out of your way to pretend? I can barely imagine what kind of effort it must take them to build a façade of perfection for the outside world to see. Instead of the truth, we read a ravishing story of success, glamour, travel, and accomplishment, replete with photos, and many, many references to career advancements and their child’s outstanding achievements. And I want to hurl.

Each December, without fail, the letter arrives and we go through the same machinations as the last. It sits on the kitchen table unopened, untouched for a few days. We eye the letter from a safe distance, circling and poking at the repulsive envelope as if it were a bloody, mutilated animal the dog drug in from the woods. Speaking in hushed tones, we swear that it’s going in the trash, any minute. But it doesn’t move. After a couple days we then soften up our tone, becoming more convivial and friendly towards That Letter, and we convince ourselves that the writers have repented, that this year is the year they have truly embraced the Christmas spirit with newfound humility and thanksgiving. Perhaps we should give them a chance? The letter sits there and mocks our indecision. Like passengers who can not resist gawking at a drive-by car accident, we ultimately give in to our morbid curiosity, daring to open the envelope and read it, even though it will probably make us sick and bitter.

It never disappoints.

 To be continued in Part 2…

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2008 2:13 pm

    Great way to capture the “spirit” of those obnoxious letters. I must admit I enjoy writing the annual Christmas letter, and it’s hard to balance optimism what may sound like bragging. I’ll try to be especially careful this year, especially since there’s no way my letter will make it out before Christmas!

    I wonder sometimes. . . what about blogging? Aren’t we guilty of the same blithering about the mundane details of life? What makes us think others are interested?

  2. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    December 17, 2008 8:24 pm

    OOOH… Good question, Pam! You should get together with Sam Van Eman at High Calling and talk about “Faking Authenticity!”

    In my authentically humble opinion, The difference between blogging and an obnoxious Christmas letter is:

    1. Bloggers are much more clever and creative in writing about those mundane details (hopefully). That’s why people would be interested in reading about them. It’s partly entertainment, right?

    2. People choose to come to our sites. We don’t send our blogs to people who don’t want to read it (do we?)

    3. Bloggers, being somewhat anonymous strangers, don’t have all that baggage that goes along with family perceptions (and trying desperately to overcome those perceptions!)

    4. Blogging is designed to be interactive, so it encourages a response and feedback. The obnoxious Christmas letter is a one-way “All About Me” monologue.

    5. For me, I tend to be more real, authentic, bad, skeptical, heretical, insecure self when I blog. It’s the oppposite of showing off. I want to show how ridiculuous we all really are. We can’t possibly take ourselves so seriously.

    There’s probably more to it than that, but you’re question compelled me to come up with some good reasons.

    Come back in a couple days to read the rest of this posting and see how I ended up handling it – a surprise ending, so to speak.

  3. December 17, 2008 9:54 pm

    circling and poking

    what a riot

  4. December 18, 2008 3:11 pm

    Bradley, I received one of Those Letters two years in a row from one branch of the family. After that, they either got The Message from someone else, thought better of forming the letter habit, or cut me out of the mailing list. For whichever reason the letters stopped, I’m grateful.

  5. December 22, 2010 11:53 am

    Can’t wait to read about this “bloody, mutilated animal!” Perhaps that’s why I haven’t sent the annual ennui since 2003. It was never as pretty as it appeared.

  6. December 22, 2010 12:05 pm

    Bradley, I love this! I wrote a post about “How to Write an Offensive Christmas Letter” and talked about several of the same things. It’s so annoying when you get one of THOSE letters.

  7. December 22, 2010 1:29 pm

    We have traditionally sent out a family letter, and I always hope it doesn’t come across like this. I suppose there is that risk, anytime we share our news with others. We do try to keep it light and fun. Ours is set up like a newspaper, and we call it “The Lee Bee.”

    My pet peeve? Letters “written” by the family pet.

    Good post, Bradley. Merry Christmas.

  8. December 22, 2010 1:38 pm

    Dude, ya don’t gotta talk about my Christmas letter in front of the whole world!

    But, on another note…

    Sounds like all us bloggers to me. We know how to sound self-deprecating, etc., so that it’s usually our foibles and faults that we talk about, etc., because that’s what’s popular right now — honesty, the mutual admission by all of us that we’re all less than perfect.

    But most of us blog (if we’re honest) because we finally found a platform to hear ourselves talk all the time. And we think that everyone else will be highly interested in what we have to say!

    Not that I want any of us to stop blogging. I love it. I just think there’s a lot more narcissism going around than we probably want to admit!

  9. December 22, 2010 1:40 pm

    Oops. NOW I see that you already addressed this in your reply to pam at beyondjustmom above.

    I apologize. Guess I should read all the comments first! How many times will I be guilty of that oversight in my life?!

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