I have never received an annual Hanukkah letter from any of my Jewish friends. If I had it would have probably gone something like this:
Once again this year we disagreed about everything including what to put in this letter. So, we decided to forget it and just write, Happy Hanukkah.
The number of annual holiday update letters is certainly on the decrease as we receive fewer each year. Most of us have moved over to social media sites such as Facebook as the primary way to update others on family news. The virtual image of the family has replaced for the most part the Christmas letter image of the family.
The letters I do still receive contain the following elements:
- a straight couple
- at least two children, by all accounts perfect
- if applicable, perfect grandchildren
- vacation summaries, usually involving at least one trip to an Orlando based theme park
- announcements of professional successes and/or academic accolades
- a family dog – not strapped to the roof of the car for those Mitt Romney fans out there
So why should the letters bother me? Why can’t I just smile and be happy for our friends or distant acquaintances? Maybe I read too much John Cheever? Maybe I am just too cynical?
I can’t help but wonder if the happy facade isn’t just that, a facade, and that underneath lurks a dysfunctional family dying to break free. Could the actual story contain the following elements instead?
- husband & wife have boring sex maybe once or twice a month, if lucky
- husband is having an affair either with a guy at the gym or a colleague at work
- wife is having an affair either with a woman at the gym or a colleague at work
- kids are in therapy
- daughter has an eating disorder
- son smokes pot
- kids feel distanced from father and know the marriage is in bad shape
- father laid off and home about to be foreclosed
- mom has a shopping addiction and is running up the credit cards
Okay, I could go on and on. So what if some element of the above is true about your own life and you receive the annual happy letter from the Wackos? Will it be the one item at the holidays to throw you into a deep depression? I guess that is my true worry, that receiving a letter filled with so much happiness and perfection might make someone else feel bad about their own not-so-perfect life. Maybe a lay off has devastated your family this past year, and you are just trying to make it; do you really need to receive letters glorifying the perfect lives of others?
I spent many years as a single woman at the holidays. Some of my single holidays were wonderful and some were rather bleak. When I lived in Maryland, I spent several holidays with a Borders colleague and her mother. All three of us were divorced and good cooks. We would enjoy a good meal, share some turkey with the dogs and spend the afternoon drinking wine and playing cards. Another holiday in Michigan was spent with a woman and her husband. She was a wonderful cook, however he did not compliment her very often about it or much of anything. I brought one appetizer which he proceeded to rave about and then began flirting with me in front of her. I made a hasty exit before her looks turned me and my dog into literal minced meat pie.
My favorite story of the single Christmas was shared by a good friend whose single sister, I’ll call her Sally, spent the day with a colleague from work and her family. A family member attending the gathering was developmentally delayed and kept forgetting having been introduced to Sally. Every 30 minutes or so the family member would loudly ask again, “Who are you and why are YOU here?” UGH! That really just sums up how we have all felt at one time or another surviving another round of holidays as the “single” person.
My first Christmas with my husband was wonderful. We did not yet have to experience the awkwardness of the blended family Christmas and we enjoyed a lovely meal and romantic evening. It was just the two of us. We did not have any crazy family or friends to manage and we enjoyed every minute of it. This year we will go to the movies with his children on Christmas Day and then enjoy some good food. Hopefully, as the years go by the awkwardness will lessen as we adjust to this new life of getting along together.
So to all those who still write the Christmas letter, I beg of you move on over to Facebook with the rest of us narcissists or better yet, start writing your own blog. Happy Holidays!
Do you still send cards or letters at the holidays? Do you have any advice to help me cope with the phenomenon of the Christmas letter?