Christmas letter writing clinic
This is the time of year when people get much more jolly, when folks reunite in person or spirit after a year (or years) of not having seen one another, and thus, it's a time of catching up.
And so out come the Christmas Cards, and the little inserts that some attach with pictures of the kids and the dogs, and of course, the Christmas letter that catches us all up on the activities of the past year. Now I find Christmas letters to be an absolutely wonderful way of sharing the goings on of the family, and I encourage people to do them. But there are ways to do them right and ways to do them wrong. And the crop I've run into over the past few years has had both good and otherwise. So in the spirit of holiday goodness, I'm offering some pointers in the art of tasteful Christmas letter writing. And while it's late in the season, and most of you have already written your happy little notes, maybe some of you procrastinators could use some help.
Keep the Christmas letter happy. I know that there are years when other-than-happy things take place. Trust me, been there. But a Christmas letter that says just how awful your boss is, how obnoxious the neighbors are, how hideous the kids have become, how the divorce is going, what sentence the judge gave your brother, or the latest outrage committed by your overbearing mother are things that seem just a tad out of place in a Christmas letter. And if you insist on writing about a year best forgotten, keep it upbeat and include the things you've learned form misfortune. Otherwise, nobody will think the less of you for failing to write a letter.
For example, upon purchasing our home, our sellers were kind enough to conceal various "unpleasantries". Within 5 days of our move in, the antique washer and dryer went up. We had to spend to get 2 new ones. Then our wonderful range either burned food to a crisp or undercooked it (and there was a gas line behind it that went unused!! I changed that). Then we discovered why last winter was so miserably cold. That winter wasn't any colder than any other winter of course, but three inches of insulation does nothing to hold in the heat. We quadrupled it by tossing in a half ton of cellulose (the name for shredded newspaper and phone books when it has a practical use). Or the new front door I installed. It looked so good that we needed to rip out the floor in the front hall...which looked so good that all of the woodwork needed to be sanded and restained. Which looked so good that we needed to...you get the idea. Funny and cute. Buy Home Depot stock.
Medical issues arise, and very often find themselves as the headline of a Christmas letter. Heart problems, strokes, neurological disorders, those bad knees, the uncle's bypass procedure and new low-carb lifestyle, or the hip operation that made Grandpa feel good as new are all appropriate topics for a Christmas letter if kept to a point.
But not all medical issues have such a place. So in that case, avoid discussing detailed diagnoses and symptomology. Because information, especially lots and lots of it, has a way of getting a little grisly. If this bit of advice is not clear enough, here's a decent rule of thumb: if you find yourself leaning towards using such terms as phlegm, feces, urine, vomit, discharge, odor, mucus, cellulite, or serosanguinous ooze, you may very well be crossing into territory best avoided.
And as a rule you are always safe avoiding any discussion of any urological, gynecological, colorectal or dermatological conditions that have developed or which were treated in the past year (or ever for that matter). Remember, if it can't be discussed over Italian food, it's probably also improper in the Christmas letter. And just in case you were wondering, simply mentioning any of those problems by the medical discipline is just as bad as going into the details, given that they leave way too much to the imagination.
Of course, for those more loose-lipped in the family, please remember that when the fateful decision was made to let you be the one to pen the Christmas letter, you became as much a threat to your family as to yourself. So to make the point succinctly, you still have to live with the family about whom you write in the letter. And chief among the victims of poor judgment in holiday letter writing are your hapless children whose reputations can be doomed by the unfortunate commentary with which you may choose to regale friends and relatives. It's safe to say that your son doesn't want the fact that he got held back a year being common knowledge as much as he wants it known about his MVP award in baseball. It's cute to talk about potty training of the little ones, and even the little funny accidents, but in the same token, perhaps not as cute to talk about the fact that your twelve year old son's bed wetting problem has not yet abated. And tread carefully in discussions about the development of the young girls in your family. It's cute to say how big your seven year old daughter is, soccer player and all--not how buxom she's become since she turned fifteen. And your spouse's personal quirks or the number of times a plunger sees action in the house on a monthly basis are all are things best omitted.
And then there are relationships. There are few things better than announcing a milestone anniversary, a wedding, an engagement, and the birth of a baby. And then there are few things that will raise eyebrows more than discussions about unrequited and unhealthy relationships. If you broke up with the dirtbag/wench this year, just state the fact. And it's really not a good idea to discuss the circumstances of the breakup. We'll trust your judgment that his penchance for crack or her affinity for public flatulence were legitimate dealbreakers.
And if you're still together, we're going to assume all is well, which is why you're always safe if you omit any discussions of any developments or regressions in your physical relationship. Yes, I've seen this in letters and I still don't know how I'm supposed to react to such information beyond unrestrained laughter. Now, it's not just that everyone receiving the letter will lose respect for you, save for the illiterate, (which is likely not a concern of yours anyway, given the fact you wrote and sent it in the first place) but in this day and age, such letters will invariably make their way to spam lists and copy machines for many thousands more to get a laugh at your expense. And that's not very Christmasy.
So, feel free to hit the paper or the word processor. Amuse us with the joys of the past year. Share with us the challenges, but for the love of all things good and holy, please spare us a letter that gets you funny looks the next time we all meet!