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Oh No! The Generic Holiday Newsletters Are Coming!

November 29, 2009

Back by popular demand! For my end-of month repost, here is that heartwarming Christmas Holiday story that you have all been waiting for…

Each year as Christmas approaches I get a number of Holiday letters from friends and family.

Of course I enjoy reading them, but I can’t help but notice an alarming trend of these generic-style family newsletters on the rise. It appears that these impersonal summaries of the mundane accomplishments of the children, grandchildren and pets have somehow become a firmly established tradition in America, 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 Holiday Newsletter is here to stay.

In my tribe, there is one particular family that truly outshines all the other newsletter-writers each and every year; but in a bad way. This particular family pushes the limits, goes over the top, above and beyond your most distasteful imagination. If there was a contest for the most obnoxious Holiday Letter in America, this family would be certain to win, hands down.

Each year as my wife and I 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 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 more days we soften up, becoming more convivial and friendly towards That Letter. 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 on the table 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.

Honestly, the generic Holiday Newsletter we got from this particular family this year looked more like a resume than anything having to do with Christmas or Chanukah or holidays or good cheer. Instead, it’s about the yacht club, sailboat racing, jewelry making, the soccer trophies, academic awards, and a host of career achievements and accolades.

It is quite obnoxious.

It’s not that I mind reading about the good fortune of my close friends and relatives. What bothers me is the subtle superiority and condescending tone that they take. I want to write a form letter back to them that says,

Thank you for your application. Unfortunately, we have found another family who was better suited to meet our interests this holiday season. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.”

It baffles me why some people have to pretend how great their lives are, like they are in some kind of competition. It’s as if my relatives are hoping that everyone will read their letter, judge their lives to be worthy and allow their family to continue on for another year.

I’d rather see a letter that talks about what a tough year they’ve had, right alongside the good news, where they honestly face up to the difficulties of their life, and ask for our support and prayers. Because, like most people, I take great comfort in hearing about the troubles of others. It makes me feel a little bit better about my own situation.

“Hey honey – did you read about how terrible the Johnson’s have it? What a relief! We’re really not doing as bad as I thought!”

That’s why we love the tabloids and Oprah and Dr. Phil, because we see the parade of dysfunctional losers spouting off about their problems and it makes us feel that things in our own lives are not so bad after all. It gives us a little perspective. Let’s face it, life is hard. We all struggle. People may be good at hiding it, but like my mother says, “Everyone Has Problems.” I don’t care who you are, how much money you have, or how fantabulous your life looks like from a safe distance. When you dig in a little bit and look behind the picture-perfect image, you will inevitably find cracks in the glass. So why try to deny it?

But the smug authors of this atrocious Christmas letter just can’t stop themselves from promoting a prideful and attention-seeking “our lives are better than yours” message. They are oblivious, and surely will strike again next year. I’m fuming over their shallow arrogance, their artificial insincerity. I need to do something about this.

I want to teach these people a lesson.

“I’m going to write a letter even worse than theirs, more obnoxious and show-offy, and send it to them!” I say to my wife, Beth. “They think they’ve had a good year? Well, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Our Holiday Letter will make them froth with envy. They’ll want to go out and kill themselves after they see our letter.”

“No, don’t do that” says Beth, calmly, sensibly. “You’ll just be stooping to their level.”

“But how else will they ever get the message, until they see a letter that is even more ridiculous than theirs? If they want to be so competitive, then let the games begin. We have a lot more achievements than they have.”

I begin recounting the various awards, achievements and victories that could fill our letter. I am drunk on the prospects of our Holiday Letter. Beth talks me down.

“It won’t lead to any good. If you’re so upset by it, why don’t you just call them and tell them to take us off their mailing list?”

Speak to them directly? I am offended! I would never dare to be so direct and forthright. Why, that might hurt their feelings! I’d much rather whine about their behavior behind their backs.

The calls start coming in from family members who are also on the mailing list, each one at first feigns a carefree detachment. After a few obligatory preliminaries, it comes out: “Did you see the letter?” they ask, licking their lips, barely able to contain their loathsome delight. “Wasn’t it horrible?” And so this goes on for several days, until we all work it out of our system.

Well, this year, after a great deal of honest reflection and prayerful consideration (not really), I am finally going to do something about it. Instead of writing a self-promoting holiday letter proclaiming the greatness of my family’s life, I thought it would be a good idea to do the opposite.

Instead, I will send out a sort of Anti-Self-Promotional Holiday Newsletter, focusing on the lowlights from our life the year past. You know, just to be really genuine for a change about all the annoying, depressing, and irritating things that happened over the year.

I figure we’re all in the same boat, most of us. Raising kids alone throws a wrench into our peace and free time. Then add a demanding job, financial pressures, family tensions, the bad economy, mood swings, middle-aging, your spouse’s job, ailing parents, health issues, and, well, that to me smells more like a normal family’s life. Yes, my Generic Holiday Letter will be chock-full of disappointments, bad news, and frightening developments.

I will send those people a letter that will really open their eyes to the harsh truth of real life.

That will show them.

Click here if you want to read my pathetic anti-promotional generic Holiday family newsletter from last year. Go ahead, it will cheer you up!

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2009 3:11 pm

    Dear Brad:

    Take a very deep breath. Hold it! Now, exhale. . . slowly. More slowly.

    You feel better, right?

    Merry Christmas.

    Loyal Reader I Am

  2. November 29, 2009 5:38 pm

    For years, we had one of “those” holiday newsletters in our family, too: the shopping trips to Hong Kong and what was purchased, in detail (including clothing sizes and colors); the various makeovers at the three homes and two condos (all within a few short hours of driving from each other); interesting things the children were up to (acting school in New York, extended university studies); and on and on and on. The extended family was quite large, and every single one of us received these gems, each year surpassing the last.

    We understood that this was a way to make them feel important, that they mattered, that they were desperately trying to fill empty lives. The relative who wrote them had grown up very, very poor, and it left scars.

    The newsletters eventually stopped. The acting school didn’t lead to Broadway; extended university studies were just a means for someone almost 30 to avoid figuring out what to do with his life; the shopping trips to Hong Kong stopped when serious illness intervened.

    Newsletters are also a way to avoid writing individual cards, which take a lot of time. They keep the recipients at a safe arm’s length, and allow you to talk only about yourself. Perfect for today’s society and culture.

  3. November 29, 2009 6:25 pm

    Another family clamoring for affirmation. {sighs} How are folk ever going to find out that we are valuable because we breath air, because of Who’s image we were made in, NOT because of anything we’ve done or will ever do in the future. How amazing would it be to be able to download that truth into peoples hearts as a Christmas gift. Little hard to wrap but think about the outcomes …. the mind boggles.

  4. November 29, 2009 6:26 pm

    ps. mental note taken to not send newsletter to ‘shrinking the camel’ ….. {protective grin}

  5. nancy permalink
    November 29, 2009 6:29 pm

    yep, time for the “Oh No! The Generic Holiday Newsletters Are Coming!” post again, honey!

    not already! we still have halloween candy! the pumpkins are still rotting on the porch! we still have turkey in the fridge!

  6. November 29, 2009 7:30 pm

    Christmas just vomited in our living room, but I promise to tell you all about it in the Christmas card I’m sending you.

    (And how did you get ahold of our family picture from last year?!)

  7. November 29, 2009 10:21 pm

    Hey, thanks for keeping it real! I can’t stand those braggy letters either.

  8. November 30, 2009 4:28 am

    Boy, am I glad we don’t have these Holiday Newsletters here in the Netherlands…

    We just stick to the (old-fashioned?) Christmas greeting cards saying “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”, which is basically what everyone wants to say with these letters, isn’t it? Or did I miss the point of these letters?

    Or maybe I could start a new trend here in sending generic holiday newsletters…

  9. November 30, 2009 11:59 am

    Hi Bradley,

    A fantastically funny entry.

    If you are so funny, why do you care so much? Do you realize how much of a blessing it is to be as funny as you are, particularly in your writings?

    Who cares about their letter? Just use it as kindling for a nice holiday season crackling fire. But be careful though, if they are part of the yacht club, they may use envelopes with an extremely potent adhesive compound. The vapors that will result from the burning may cause dizziness or delirium, thereby eradicating some of your brain cells and reducing your levels of funniness.

    See ya later brainiac.

  10. December 1, 2009 2:34 am

    Oh my! The camel’s a bit testy?

    Merry Christmas, Brad. If you email me your address, I’ll send you one of my letters. 😀 … bwah ha ha

  11. December 2, 2009 7:01 am

    Oh, you guys are good. Yes, I suppose I shouldn’t care so much.

    Marcus, I have been trying to decipher the “Christmas vomited in the living room” but have so far not figured it out. Would love a follow-up on that one. Intriguing.

    Matthew- Very clever. And thanks for the encouragement!

    Leon – I wish we could become more European in that regard. Just a nice card saying “Merry Christmas” would be enough, or a hand-written letter.

    Anne- I think I will take you up on that. I know that none of my good friends in the blogosphere would EVER be so obnoxious!

  12. December 3, 2009 2:36 pm

    It’s funny, I have a different take on the family newsletters. I actually look forward to them. Perhaps they are not as over the top as the letter you get, or maybe they’re a little less fake and pretentious.

    I really like to see how other folks are doing. What kind of fun and success they’ve had through the year. What types of things are important to these folks and what they want to share with others.

    I don’t see any sense in sharing the downers in our life. Reading a letter like the one you suggest sending would make me think you are seeking pitty. In my book that would be worse than the bragging letter.

    You’re better off just being truthful and honest and sharing your life with the best intentions. Much like you do here on your blog. Share the ups and down, and do it from a place of honesty. When you write your letter, send a copy my way, I’d love to read it.

    • December 7, 2009 6:14 am

      Well, I never sent the letter. I chickened out. But I did send it to several close friends who appreciated the humor! So no one will be pitying me this year…

  13. Annie permalink
    December 6, 2009 12:41 am

    Ahhh!!! The generic letter of the season…never have liked them. The last two years, I have sent something inspirational instead of bragging about our family stuff. This year will be a letter in a box full of trinkets to remind us what the season is all about…not shopping or bragging or getting the most!
    As for reading the letter this year, I would just pitch it away or use it to start a fire in the fireplace or shred it to line a hamster cage or….ooooopppppppsssss getting a bit out of the old holiday spirit!!!
    Well, life does go on and there are those who will always feel the need to be Danielle Steel around this time.
    Good luck on your letter, at least it will be honest!

    • December 7, 2009 6:21 am

      Annie- I like the idea of inspiriational trinkets – Not only is it a reminder of the season, but it shows the other stuff is not really that important.

      I think this year, I will be much calmer. Writing about is and seeing all the responses people have has been quite therapeutic!

  14. Susan permalink
    December 7, 2009 5:44 am

    What if the people really are doing that well? Should they tone it down to not make the people who aren’t doing so well feel better?

    I guess I have mixed feelings. People seem to love to hear other people’s troubles because it makes them feel better than it isn’t them so maybe they don’t want to hear people’s successes because it makes them feel bad as they should be accomplishing more in life.

    Then again there are the ones that are blatant lies. The sister that writes how wonderful and fabulous everything is and brags about their new motor home and in reality their house is being foreclosed on and their car was re possessed. I just feel sad for them.

    I think each family has their own superstar. You know the one who is the most successful in the family and the other family members brag about them too and how beautiful the wife is and how gifted the kids are and all the fabulous vacations they take.

    Then there is the family screw up or just loser and everyone smiles and feels sorry for them.

    I recently got married and am a part of a new family now. I am very successful and won’t apologize for it either. The family I married into has a superstar and apparently we have dethroned them. It is kind of funny really. I make a lot more than they do. I have several degrees. They have a high school diploma. I drive a Mercedes. They don’t. I’m American and a novelty to them. All the places they brag about having been, I’ve either been there or even used to live there. I don’t brag though. I don’t mention my successes at all.

    In the end, none of it matters. They are family just the same regardless if they are successful or not or whether they brag bout it or not.

    • December 7, 2009 6:18 am

      Ah, yes, the joys of the family dynamics! I like the term you used, “De-throned.” I wonder if your quiet, confident approach to your life will make some of those other family members want to brag even more, to try to show that they can keep up with you?

      Your so right – in the end, none of it matters. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go work on my attitude…

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