Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

Good morning.  Good Christmas morning to you and yours.  

This is the second year I am writing this Christmas morning letter.  I used to email my work colleagues for several years, simply wishing them well.  Last year I began a more formal and extensive greeting to a larger base of friends, family, and colleagues.  

Christmas is a festive and family time.  In these northern climes, it is cold outside and warm in our homes and hearts.  It can be a solemn time which is why I choose pre-dawn on Christmas morning to write and share these reflections.  I like starting the holiday this way with a hot cup of coffee in front of my laptop.  Well, having a hot cup of coffee and sitting in front of my laptop is something I do most everyday, today is different.  Today is different because I have nothing else on my mind except writing this greeting to all of you.

Christmas can also be a stressful and hectic time.  That stress and pace is due to two factors.  First, in order to have the twinkling lights inside and out and the festive foods that define and fuel the familial warmth, there is a lot of preparation.  I once had a boss that said, “I am not exactly sure of what I am in charge of at work, but at home I am clearly not in command.”  That statement resonated.  At this time of year, I am a reluctant decorator, a dutiful taxi driver, and upon occasions a maid.  It has to be done and we are busy with our work lives at full blast until we seem to enter holiday mode at full blast.

This year, my niece and Goddaughter, Melanie Mardoian married Kevork Chavoush Mesrobian on Thanksgiving Weekend.  It was a great wedding and a truly wonderful time.  The bride and groom glowed and the families and guests were full of joy that emanated from the bride and groom.  It was one of those five days of celebration events that will standout in our memories.  We used to read about Armenian weddings in days of yore that lasted for several days, it is still the way we do it in our family.  

For all that fun, it put us behind in Christmas planning.  Immediately after, Judy had to focus on writing a major paper for a masters degree she is working on.  I had to prepare and grade exams, projects, and final exams for the three courses I was teaching.  Holiday planning took a back seat until, well, a week before the big day.  We are usually rolling in this regard by the first week of December.  This just was not the case this year.  Hence the hectic feeling.  We did get it all together and the house looked great for last night’s Christmas Eve gathering.

Second, in case you have not noticed, there is a distinct commercial aspect to this holiday season.  With each passing year, and this may be the part of the holiday that offends me the most, we are bombarded around these parts with Christmas or holiday decorations, muzak, sales, discounts, free shipping, extended store hours, black friday, cyber monday, this, that, and the other thing for a full two months.  It really can be irritating.  I cannot imagine working in a retail establishment that is pumping out Holiday jingles, carols, hymns, and pop songs sung by every imaginable artist in every imaginable style.  It would drive me crazy after a few days.

Sure, I understand the commercial aspects of the holidays.  I do not begrudge anyone a living or the need to turn a profit.  I just do not like the “scope” or “schedule” creep of the whole thing.  It dilutes the beauty and warmth of the season and holiday in particular.  

But, I write this Christmas morning not to complain about household chores and the commercialization of the season.  I get up early because it is a beautifully quiet time to reflect on friends and family I will not be seeing today.  I will think about all of you, who I will not be able to knock on your door or ring your door bell and come in and give you Christmas hug and share a cup of Christmas cheer.  It is as quiet as it gets around here.  There is a slight whir of the laptop fan, the noise the furnace makes kicking on and off, the chiming of the clocks every fifteen minutes, and that is it.  I do not even play any music.

It would be great if I could magically be in Wilton, CT, Buenos Aires, Yerevan, Detroit, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Montevideo, Istanbul, Cali, New York, Fresno, Caracas, Ocala, and many other places. It would be great to see you all.  It would be Santa Claus like magic if that were possible.  Yet, in this modern world, this Internet age, I am kind of doing just that but in a more figurative way.  I am knocking on all your doors, I am sending a card to all of you, simultaneously.  It feels good to do so.  It feels right.  

This year my daughter, Armené, and her husband Michael are with us in Lake Forest.  My son, Aram, and his wife Anoush are with her parents in New York.  We were all together a month ago at Melanie’s wedding.  This is as it should be when not everyone lives in the same city where we could have our entire clan with us.  That would be one heck of a gathering.  We would probably have to rent a space.

My sister, Ani, and her husband, Jeff, have hosted Thanksgiving for the past several years.  The host my Mother’s side of the family who live mostly in Michigan and Jeff’s entire family.  That comes to 40-50 people.  They have a nice sized house but, as built, there was no where for everyone to sit together.  Jeff is a “car guy” and has been his whole life.  He has a body shop business and is always buying and selling cars.  His passion is Ford Mustangs and specifically the Shelby version there of.  So, he added on to his existing garage and built another to house his cars. The addition is heated, dry walled, and has a lovely floor.  It is more showroom than garage.  At Thanksgiving, he empties it of vehicles and sets up tables.  All the food is put on a buffet and we all sit down together in one room.  It is very nice and a great holiday memory.  Everyone brings something and it is a great festive feast.

Years ago on one of our Christmas visits to Lake Forest, we went to visit family friends:  the Derderians.  George Derderian was a life long friend of my Father In-Law, Harold.  George was a self made man.  He started, built-up, and sold at least two local banks.  He was always buying, renovating, and selling houses.  Houses is not quite accurate, I would call them mansions.  The time we went to visit him, he owned one of the primo estates on Lake Avenue over looking Lake Michigan.  He gave us a tour of what I am guessing was an 8,000+ square foot home.   I do not remember much of the house except for the third floor.  The entire third floor of this home was a ballroom.  Wow.  For some reason, this impressed me.  I would love to have my own ballroom; to have the luxury of having a home where a third of it existed solely to entertain on a large scale.  I thought about and think about still not hosting large dinners but serious music parties in such a space.  What a Christmas party we could have in such a space!

Our gathering on Christmas Eve was quite nice.  It is the traditional gathering of my wife’s Father’s family: the Mardoians. With the passing years, the group changes.  There is ebb and flow as to who can come and last night was no different.  We missed Judy’s cousins John, Dawn, and Dawn’s husband Doug.  They were in their home in La Quinta, California.  We missed John because for years he gave his own unique read of the “The Night Before Christmas.”  While the kids are mostly adults now, they would still beg him to read this.  We would have missed that tradition this year.  So, I bought one of read it and record it books of “The Night Before Christmas” and John recorded it a few months ago.  Everyone applauded when it was done and we called John to thank him!

Our parish priest Der Zareh, his wife, son, and daughter in-law joined us.  We were at his son, Levon, and their daughter in-law, Tina’s, wedding this past October in New York City.  It was very nice.  The Armenian tradition is for the parish priest to bless one’s home on Christmas Eve or shortly thereafter.  It is a tradition, like many, that has waned in this modern era.  We keep it alive.  He did the short service last night before we sat down to eat.  It was very nice and thus I am writing you all this morning from a freshly blessed house.  .

Early in the evening, my friend Andres called from Colonia, Uruguay.  He is such a good fellow.  I really appreciate his reaching out.  I knew who it was when the phone rang.  I had called my family in Detroit as well as my son and daughter in-law in New York earlier.  We will be on the phone with family in Boston and Los Angeles later today.  

Der Zareh had served as the parish priest for several years in Buenos Aires before coming to Chicago.  He and his family loved it there.  We spent part of the evening reminiscing about about the warmth we felt with the most Latin Americans.  We decided it was because Armenians and Latin Americans, look at family and friends in the same way.  We are simpatico in this regard.  That is probably why I started emailing my friends and work colleagues when most of them were in the various countries of Latin America.  That is why when I write a broader letter these days, my Latin friends are at the core of it all.  They are also the gang I am least likely to see over the holiday season.

This is  a longer letter than I had intended to write.  I must have gotten up even earlier and the coffee must be even tastier than last year.  Perhaps, I miss you all a bit more.  I close this letter the same way I did last year.  The sentiment is exactly the same with only the year updated..  I am delighted to reach out this very quiet moment to friends and family all over the United States and all over the world to convey our warm Christmas wishes to you and yours.  Even more so, I hope that 2012 is a year of health, happiness, and prosperity for you and yours.. 


  1. Thnx, again, cuz for your Xmas morn e-correspondence. Only you (ie the second coming of dear Uncle Rouben) have the discipline and wherewithal to pull it off. He would be so proud of you!!! Have a great day and may '12 be your best year ever!!!

  2. Merry Christmas to you and yours! Warm wishes for a wonderful 2012!

  3. Mark, as always is nice to hear about good friends, thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Perhaps many feels the same, but we do not take the time to write it, in my case just reflect, but the speed of thougths is fast, I guess is a good idea to write to highlight the most important things in life.
    I wish you, your family and your good friends Merry Chrstmas and healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2012 !!

    Un abrazo !

  4. Thank you Mark for being such a faithful friend, I do miss the time we were in Wilton but do not miss the cold and the snow.
    All the best to you and your family.
    Isabelle Odjaghian

  5. MARK:
    It is so good to catch up on your family and friends. May I add my wishes to those of your friends and family and may I add that 2012 brings a year of peace to the world.
    Franklin Schargel

  6. Well written, well said, thank you for being my best friend.

  7. Hi Mark,

    All the best for you and your family in 2012. I trully enjoyed your Christmas letter. I think you should think about publishing a book soon. (A collection of your monthly newsletters will be a great beginning)

    Un abrazo, amigo