December 1, 2008

Christmas Letter Hell

It is that time of year. Despite all the War on Christmas nonsense, I love this time of year. I love the cooler weather, the shorter days, the decorations and lights, and even the sounds and smells of Christmas. I love it all.

And I generally love the Christmas cards (especially since we are so very inconsistent on sending out ours). But with all due respect to the Christmas letter writers out there, some of you should not. I know, I know. I should not use the word "should." But some people are a danger to others.

Certainly not all. I have a completely arbitrary and subjective system for evaluating letters. Good, meh, and BAD.

In the Good category, I have to say (and this is not just because she reads here) are my mother's letters. Scrupulously fair in mentions and praise of relatives, brief in text, and completely lacking in bragging. My Texas friend's parents are similar. Brief, in an impressive sort of way, and then a little explanation of their travels or movement during the year, then salutation and a picture. Most of their discussion is about the grandkids--not always stuff I am terribly interested in, but certainly understandable and within the rules. My rules, of course.

Meh. New popular blog word (just got into the dictionary, I heard) and describes a mediocre feeling about something. That clearly describes a lot of Christmas letters we get. They don't insult me, nor do they excite me. They are informative, often pretty, and usually with pictures. Sometimes, these letters are marked down for not including pictures of the adults--which in some cases, means that we have a picture of the only people in that family that we have never met and do not know.

Bad. Oh my. Bad letters have sub-categories, though all are measured against the Baddest of the Bad, or infamous letters from a female church member when I was in high school and college. I would dare that her letters are still famous. Hers were long and wordy. That isn't always a bad thing, but when those numerous words are used as she did. . . Oh my. Each year, the entire church community was treated to rather detailed and lengthy discussions of her latest illness and procedures. Not necessarily graphic, but close enough to make you shudder. The year SOF and I married, her Christmas letter mentioned that several people had weddings that year, but her son's was clearly the best.

I don't know a person from that time who didn't wince when they saw that letter in their mail.

Some are Bad in the "Our family is better than your family" way. One family was very nice, and I liked them very much. But their Christmas letters are a list of successes, job promotions, prize-winning grandkids, and new houses. I still remember the description of one of the weddings in a mansion on a hill. Sigh. Reading their letter made us feel like failures.

Others seem to have the "let me use this Christmas letter to send a political message." I still remember a former friend sending a letter in the 90s that mocked the Clinton administration. Perhaps he really thought all of his Christmas list voted Republican. I don't know. Everyone here knows that SOF and I are very pleased with the last election, but we would not send out a gloating Obama Christmas letter as we know that a good portion of our Christmas card list voted for McCain. That isn't so complicated, is it?

We just received a similar letter. Not exactly Republican propaganda, but to put it in perspective, to keep up, I would have to send out our Christmas letter (assuming we do one this year) mocking creationism, or taking on David Barton. Sigh.

Perhaps there is no general rule. Everyone has their own goal for sending out a letter. But I don't think that is the place for a political ax, or something in the "too much information" category. They should not make you feel bad.

That seems simple enough.


Firefly said...

My favorite letters are the ones where the person tries to make something or someone bad or unsuccessful sound better in their writing... "Dave finally has a steady job, and may move up to assistant manager next month.." When we read between the lines we know Dave is a dead beat and can't keep a job :-)

steves said...

We usually end up seeing most of the people we know at some point during Christmas and I am not really into sending out cards. My wife enjoys doing it, but is often so busy with the end of the semester, report cards, and other work related stuff that she doesn't think about cards until it is too late to send them.

We have gotten the "look how woderful our family is" letters, but never anything political. Maybe people know what an opinionated curmudgeon I am.

leighton said...

I'm too young to be getting Christmas letters, but judging from some of the ones my family has gotten, the bad letters seem to come most often from people who don't grasp that persuading and mouthing off to a captive audience are two very different things.

Yan Naing said...

You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving. Keep it up!