Saturday, January 10, 2009

December 2005: Christmas/Holiday Letters

I tried writing a Christmas letter and did so for a few years. I sent it by e-mail thinking to make the transition from hard copy snail mail cards to a modern, more personal and a cost/labor saving modern alternative. I kept the letter brief highlighting the activities of each family member and providing three to four photos for a visual dimension. It didn’t take very long. I had both a Christmas and a generic Holiday version. I was kind of proud of it and the responses were very warm and appreciative.

Yet, after two years, I stopped and returned to a more traditional photo card with no letter mailed to all via the US Post. Why did I stop? I felt like I was writing an “our family is better than yours” letter. This may sound a bit odd given that for twenty-two months I have written and distributed this letter to many of the same folks who were getting my Christmas/Holiday letter. I have blithered, blathered and laid more out there with this e-letter project than I ever did in those two Christmas/Holiday letters. Yet, I stopped the Christmas/Holiday letter. I felt uncomfortable. Even though I tried to write as factually as I could about the kids, button bursting pride came shining through in whatever they did and didn’t do.

I read every word of every letter that is sent to us. It is truly a good way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances that we do not see often enough. We get a glimpse into weddings in which we were not close enough to have been invited or were not able to attend. If I get someone’s letter before actually sending their card, I will add a personal note offering congratulations or condolences on something I read in their letter. Ten years ago, I would have said this was simply “to get credit” for having read their letter. Nowadays, such acknowledgements are quite heartfelt, probably a fact of being on the sincere and less cynical side of fifty.

I love photo cards. I love getting photos of both those I see all the time and those I only see in the Christmas/Holiday card photo. I ooh and ah at the striking resemblances of children to parents or grandparents. I even love it when I open the occasional card where I recognize neither the name nor the faces in the photos. A mental nudge from my wife or children gets me to recall that, in fact, I do know these people. I attribute such lapse from being on the forgetful side of fifty.

One year, a letter from a couple I used to work with sent a letter in which they proudly proclaimed that the Mrs. had “baked 10,000 cookies.” Actually, I do not recall the exact number. Maybe it was more, maybe less. But it was an astronomical number. As I had not sent their card yet, I included a little note exclaiming my amazement and awe at the vast number of cookies baked. I made a really big deal of it. I even did a little calculation that they would have had to bake something like twenty dozen cookies a day for forty five days. I queried and speculated as to what they do with that vast numbers of cookies.

Finally, I expressed regret for no longer living in Detroit and thus missing out on their confectionary largess. For some reason, they didn’t answer any of my questions. Oddly, they even stopped sending Christmas letters for a few years. I was delighted to get a letter again from them this year but there was no mention of cookies.

We have a cousin who sends a letter each year. They do something clever. They write the letter in the point of view, voice and signature of their youngest child. Their boys are aged six, four and one. They started this when their first born was in the womb. In the skilled style and imagination of the parental ghost writer, the letter has been consistently of high quality, very readable and interesting. I wonder what will happen when the boys get older and can actually pen the letter themselves. Maybe they will be totally embarrassed at the previous letters. Maybe they will choose to wait until they have children of their own in whose names they will write Christmas letters. Maybe, no one in that family can write in the first person. I considered pointing out all of these theories to the parents, but I won’t in fear that they may take me off the letter list like the aforementioned cookie bakers.

I thought of sending out a parody letter with my Christmas/Holiday greetings one year. I would have done it save the fact that a parody letter using my own family would never have gotten by the editor-in-chief let alone the censors. Plus, such a parody on my own family would be really of difficult to keep plausible, humorous and not sarcastic. Yet to parody the Christmas/Holiday letters in general, ah, that puts a glint in my eye and quickens my pulse. I had a lot of fun doing the following. But, like movies and TV shows I must add: The characters and events in the following bits are purely fictional. Any resemblance to real people or real events is entirely coincidental and in no way should provide grounds for anyone taking me off their Christmas/Holiday letter list.

How to put a good spin on the eccentric, strange or just plain weird: Our young Karen is a sophomore in high school. It was not her best year. In March, her beloved pet gerbil, Psycho, committed suicide. Since then, her grades have suffered and she has become a wee bit difficult to live with. Neither psychiatry, shock therapy, nor drugs have helped pulling her out of it. Yet, there was a silver lining. The gerbil tragedy has somehow ended her anorexia and given her back her appetite. It is wonderful to see that healthy glow return to her face. Yet, having gained 263 lbs, she needed new clothes and knowing her extremes, well you guessed, she has become a compulsive shopper. Good thing I am obscenely wealthy!

It is a wonderfully naïve life: Me? Well this year was much better than last. Things were pretty bad after my loving wife, Linda, of twenty-eight years ran off with her Pilates instructor, Susan. Well, I will not get into that again. I mean the sixteen pages I wrote in last year’s letter kind of closed the book on that part of me life, don’t you agree?

In February, I met the girl of my dreams, Svetlana, on-line ( She may be only nineteen, but it is like, well… we have made each other whole. We are soul mates. After a whirlwind e-mail romance, we met in Moscow in May. It was wonderful. It was magical. We were truly in love.

We decided to get married. So, we went to the US embassy to get the appropriate visas and whatever to bring Sveti over to the states for a June wedding. What a load of paper work and interviews they put you through! They interviewed us together and separately. I have to tell you that I was not entirely pleased with how we were treated. The middle level embassy wonk who interviewed me starting citing case after case of how such marriages never lasted more than a few months and were merely a way to get US citizenship and half of the their spouses assets… if not more. Silly man! He could not see how much and how deeply in love we were. I imagine such things could happen but the website ( boasted of their intense screening process just to prevent this kind of thing.

Sveti and I got married in June in a quite civil ceremony and honeymooned in Las Vegas. Boy, can she gamble. Too bad she is not good at it. We later returned home, I to my mail route and Sveti took to refurbishing our little love nest. She was so good at it she became an interior decorator. Surprisingly she has partnered with another Russian, Ivan, in her business who also recently moved to our town. Astonishingly, Ivan, 27 years old and quite handsome, is from the same little town, Urupinsk. What are the chances of that? They are always together. If he weren’t an interior decorator (wink, wink), I would be a little jealous.

In 2006, we are getting the paperwork in order to bring her mother, father and four siblings over. They will all live with us. She is so happy. I am so happy. We are so happy.

Our family is better, way better, than yours: Young Fred graduated magna ultra-suede in May from Our Mother of Sacred Ivy University. He double majored in Astro-physics and Pre-Columbian Art. Being the delightfully unpredictable child he has always been, it was no surprise when Freddy announced he would be applying to both Law and Medical schools. Having achieved a perfect score on the LSAT, it was quite natural that Freddy got into his first choice school: Yale. The dean was so nice. He called us once a week to make sure Fred would indeed be applying. Fred didn’t do quite as well on his MCATs. He scored only in the 98.99th percentile. Oh, how we teased him that seventeen students scored better than him.

Because of this mediocre performance, Fred was only able to get into MIT Medical School. I know what many of you are thinking: MIT does not have a medical school. That was true. But upon hearing that Fred was interested in Medical School, the MIT Board of Trustees unanimously decided to quickly establish a medical school simply to attract Fred. So, what to do? Medicine or Law? Consistent with our young over achiever, he decided to do both. He will live in Boston and go to MIT. Three nights a week he will drive to New Haven for Law School. The Eli’s were only too happy to create a special program to accommodate our Fred. In his commencement address, we were a bit taken aback to hear that Fred decided to defer for a year. But we were tickled pink to hear this decision was based on the fact that he had made the US Speed Skating Team and really wanted to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. Oddly, we never even knew he could even ice skate.

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I am sure there is a coffee table book of Christmas/Holiday letters. Consider this an abridged version, my little twist on the topic. Christmas letters are like fruit cakes. Everybody complains about them but we all try them and are pleasantly surprised when every once in a while they taste really good.

My favorite letter comes from Ed and Isabelle (readers of this e-letter). We got to know them when they lived in Wilton. They have lived in San Diego for five or six years. Their letter, which Ed writes, is always a gem. He gets across what everyone in the family is doing with exactly the right mix of seriousness and humor. He conveys the ups and downs we all experience in a masterful way. It is masterful because there is not a hint of bragging or over sentimentality. Yet, the love, pride and sentiment are all there and delivered with a most unassuming way, sprinkled with just the right amount of self-effacement. Brilliant. He e-mails the letter that includes photos. I print it off and read it several times over the holidays.

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Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men. All the best to you and yours for a wonderful, healthy and prosperous 2006!


  1. Many thanks for such a write-up. I undoubtedly cherished reading it.
    Congratulation letters

  2. Thanks...I finally sat down and Im enjoying a little email. Your letter was a quick break before I get up to finish some cookie making myself (not 10,000). Love to the family and A Happy New Year. Barbara (Oakton, Va)