How to write an honest Christmas letter

Listen, deadbeat.  It’s too late to send out paper cards, which you’ve been “taking a year off” from doing since 1993.

In fact, failing to send out cards is the only Christmas tradition you’ve managed to keep faithfully, other than miraculously transforming, every Christmas Eve, from someone who owns six pairs of scissors and four rolls of tape into someone who is seriously considering using little dabs of strawberry jelly to stick together the shredded edges of wrapping paper, which you attempted to cut by scoring it with a Budweiser cap.  Jelly is sticky, isn’t it?  Isn’t it?

Settle down, twitchy.  You can buy tape later.  Right now you have to write a Christmas letter, because, although you have been assiduously updating your co-workers, gym mates, and entire eighth grade graduating class with Facebook pictures of your latest half-eaten lasagna, half-eaten frittata, and half-eaten farro salad, you have sort of forgotten to talk to your parents in eleven months.  They don’t know you’ve moved out of the country, changed your citizenship, become a communist, and given birth to twins.  They don’t even know you’ve forgiven them for making you take hand bell lessons in third grade.

In other words, you’ve been out of touch.

Well, a Christmas letter is a graceful way to get back in touch.  Because that’s what decent people do, that’s why.

And no, you can’t send out cards in early January and play the “liturgical accuracy” card.  Some people can pull that off, but not you.  Why?  Because the only stamps you own have jack-o’-lanterns or valentine hearts on them.   And besides, what would you use to address all those envelopes when you have no pens — no pens at all?  No, you can’t just write in strawberry jelly.  What is the matter with you?

You’re going to have to write a Christmas email, which you can just blast out to everyone on your contacts list.  Tacky, but acceptable.  People have good hearts.  People understand.

You really just have one more problem:  What to say.

“Just tell the truth?”  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.  Yes, why don’t you just explain what your family has been up to for the past year?  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Ohhh, man, that’s a good one.  As if you didn’t expend enough energy hiding the truth about your family from people you know to be mandatory reporters.  Now you’re supposed to put it in writing and broadcast it to the world, with a big fat “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Don’t You Judge Me?”

Okay, look, here’s the plan.  You actually can tell friends and family about your year.  You just have to be selective about how you phrase it.  For instance, you could say,

“We are so pleased that the kiddos got into this elite new school.  I don’t want to be a name-dropper, but they have been on the waiting list for a lo-o-o-ong time.  I think it was Junior’s essay that tipped the balance and got him in!”

And nobody has to know that the “new school” is actually the Pauly Shore Vocational Middle School for the Entertainingly Pathetic, and that his “essay” was his entry into the Mom of the Year contest in the local paper, wherein he described your recipe for fluffer-ramen sammiches, which you packed in his lunch every day since kindergarten, and which may or may not be responsible for his extensive neurological lag.

Or you could just casually mention,

“My personal trainer says I’ve made huge progress this year!”

And you don’t need to provide the trivial detail that your “personal trainer” means the guy who designs your prescription pants for super fat fatties, and boy, does he like a challenge.

Or you could say,

“We’re so proud of Robert!”

And just leave out the part about

“Robbie got fired from his dental hygienist job again, and they refuse to even consider a reapplication until he returns the gross of Doc McStuffins tattoos he stole from the kiddie prize drawer.  The good news is, the statute of limitations came into effect before they were able to prove conclusively that he was the one huffing all the nitrous oxide, so they won’t be pressing charges.  Go, Robbie!!!”

You see?  It’s all in how you phrase it.  Why, you could be thinking,

“What cruel twist of fate burdened me with a bunch of witless baboons like you?  If there were any justice in the world, I’d be putting my feet up, listening to Bach, and eating a nice toasted bagel with cream cheese, and you’d be the one furtively scraping dried Spaghetti-o’s off your toddler’s shirt as you try and make yourself as inconspicuous as possible in the orthodontist’s waiting room, knowing that all you have to come home to is a trashed living room, a mountain of dirty laundry, and a hunk of chop meat that will in no way defrost in time for dinner.”

and nobody but you needs to know that that’s what you mean when you say,

“Merry Christmas, my friends.”

A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2012.

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