Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Night Relaxer: It’s beginning to feel like Christmas letters

This weekend, like every first weekend of December for the past 6 years I will be writing our family’s Christmas Letter. Part of me hates myself every time I do it because it means that, yes I have become one of those people who writes Christmas letters. This was something I was sure I would never become.

Really, I’m now that guy? Well yes. Sadly I am.

You see when you are young, not only do you not really care about reading the Christmas letters written by a bunch of married olds with kids, you also don’t have any need to write them.

When you’re young, you’re far too busy to worry about writing down and telling your friends what you did during the year (and anyway most of your friends are nearby and know what you did last minute due to Facebook). And if you’re married with no kids you’re having too much fun doing everything you won’t be doing once you have kids to bother. And seriously who wants to read a Christmas letter that says:

This year Peter and I went out every weekend with our group of friends except for those weekends we stayed home and had nookie in every room of the house and then slept in till noon before getting up to go on our holiday to France.

Ok, maybe I am slightly rewriting the glory of being “double income, no kids”. image

But when you get older, you find you or your friends have gone off to other parts, and yet still you can resist the need to write a Christmas letter – after all there’s Facebook and what have you. But then you have kids and suddenly your aunts and uncles and the uncles and aunts of your aunts and uncles seem more interested in what has been happening in your life – ie your kids. And coupled with this you also feel this weird desire to tell people with whom you haven’t had any contact other than a Christmas Card for 15 years more than just Merry Christmas. Yes you want to tell them about your kids.

And yet it is also a bloody chore. What did we do this year? Did we do anything in April? When did your brother visit, was that this year or last year? No not that brother, your other brother? What did I do this year? I don’t know, you tell me I can’t remember. 

Ah geez. And then there’s the Christmas cards to address…

But once you have bitten the bullet and decided to write your letter, you have to remember that there are traps for young and old players of the Christmas letter game.

Firstly there’s the type who go into slightly too much detail:

This year was a extremely busy one for me. In June I started to volunteer at the boys’ school in the tuck shop. I quickly found that it wasn’t the easy job I thought it would be. Each Wednesday I need to arrive at around 10:18am where I am greeted always by the lovely Irene who runs the shop. She comes from Pinnaroo which meant of course that we bonded straight away given that my cousin Thelma grew up there and I used to spend some of the best Christmases of my childhood there. I haven’t seen Thelma for many years – in fact not since she had the operation on her varicose veins. The tuck shop needs to be restocked every day and my job is to make sure we always have enough bananas and apples for sale. The shop doesn't sell any junk food anymore, and so the kids always seem to like bananas.

John and I this year hoped to take the kids to Queensland for a holiday but the rain in June meant we had to put it off for another year as we wanted to go via Broken Hill and we were told by our neighbour Jenny that the roads out there would be impassable. Jenny’s sister Mildred lives in Broken Hill. In the end we wouldn't have been able to go anyway because little Beatrice came down with a terrible case of gastro that had her spending most of the school holidays on the toilet.

One problem with Christmas letters as well is they can often be written by someone who generally does not spend much time during the year doing any writing and thus punctuation and grammar can be a bit tricky:

Its quite possible that this year, was one of the best years’ of our life’s as we, achieved a life time goal, when for the first time in our life, ever we were able to go to the Devils Marble’s. We both thought it was the best time in our life when, we were there watching, the sun rise over the land, and, saw it’s shadow go over the rocks. We were so excited at finally, being able to do this that Peter and I were literally exploding in delight as we hugged each other to death.   

imageThe there is the unfortunate typo:

The big event for John this year was in August his work was put on pubic display at the local show. Everyone was extremely impressed at his talent. Many of the women told me how envious they were.

Then there’s the one who is a bit excited:

Jenny scored a goal this year for soccer! It was a great moment for her – she tried so hard!! Jack also has really improved his football. His coach says he is a great team player. I spend a lot of time watching his games screaming like a silly proud mum! But then again that’s what I am, so why shouldn’t it???!!!

Bob had his gall stones removed in April!

Now of course the whole point of the Christmas letter is to brag about your kids, but there are limits:

When Miranda came home with full marks for her spelling test, Philip and I were so proud. It was a lovely family moment when we were able to stick the test result next to the certificate she won for coming 4th in the class cross country competition and the weekly prize award her teacher gave her in first term for being such a great help around the class. Philip and I like to keep our dreams in check, but when Miranda graduates with that Medical Degree in 15 years I know all the hard work she is putting in now will be worth it.

Now that the internet has arrived, people are able to do some home publishing, and can make their Christmas letter look like a newspaper (complete with heading such as “The Johnson Family Times”. These letters are usually ones to be wary of – because only a skilled and careful hand will stop them from pretty much repeating every type of letter thus far mentioned.

Some people feel they have so much to say they need to adopt a raft of acronyms which no one else can understand to get all the information in. Thus no one will be referred to by name – initials will do (and of course the author will refer to his/herself by an initial as well just to make it even more confusing):

P’s job this yr has been v taxing. He would love to be able to spend more time with C and G but his boss needs him to work OT 24/7. J has spent a lot of time working on her RG. P on the WE is very good at carting manure around, which was a GH when J planted her new roses. C is often too busy playing PS3 with his BF H, but G likes to help J with the pruning and if P is not OS for W he can also make sure C isn’t always watching TV. C does enjoy visiting Grandma D which is nice now that she has gotten over her bout of DTs.

Other letters sometimes give away more information than the author realises:

John this year has taken up singing, and appeared in a local production of Annie Get Your Gun. He got interested in it through a friend of ours, Jenny, who recently started working for the same company as John. Jenny used to sing professionally and she has been great in helping John get over any stage fright. He has thrown himself into his role, and was out rehearsing almost every night of the week. He came home so exhausted each night, but I could see from the look on his face that he was absolutely loving it. I was so proud watching him on opening night. Jenny tells me he is the only man in the cast she would feel comfortable singing a duet with!

Then there is the letter that focuses on the trivial (generally written by the male of the couple):

Well this year was pretty good for us all. We bought a new TV which we were pretty excited about. It was a 50 inch Panasonic with a blu-ray player that provides full HD. It’s great sitting back and watching the footy. Jill loves it, and she often relaxes on Friday night watching old films, except of course during the footy season when I watched the glorious Collingwood win their way to the flag. In June I lost my job and Jill’s mother died. In July I got an new job. The kids have been doing great at sport – Peter’s kicking skills have really improved and…

Others really don’t have time, so the love is conveyed through bullet point:

  • In February we got a dog. The kids called it Skipper. I renamed it Gilligan.
  • March we went for a holiday to Mildura. Last time we do that again.
  • April and May saw us pretty busy around the house – gardening, re-cementing the driveway
  • June, I backed over Gilligan in the new driveway.

And yet I’ll read all the letters when I visit my parents this Christmas. I’ll catch up with everyone vaguely related to me via these annual drafts of news. You forgive the grammar, the errors, the poor phrasing, the mention of people you have never heard of in a context you couldn't understand. In fact in time you come to know each person’s style, and you would almost be disappointed if they changed and delivered something non-unique.

So if you are writing a Christmas letter this year, I wish you good luck, and don’t worry, once it’s done all you then have to do is write out and address all those Christmas cards sitting in a pile on the table.



Fiona said...

Told ya, a links list will suffice.

Anonymous said...

Stop procrastinating and write the bloody letters already!

Red Bakersen said...

" that she has gotten over her bout of DTs."

I pissed myself. :)

Jaime said...

Save me from the Xmas letter!

I should just put a list of my FB updates for the year as the letter for this year. Sadly it would say fuck with far too much frequency.

Unknown said...

No wonder you're procrastinating, what will you write about? It's not like you've had a busy year.....

Greg Jericho said...

Yep Dave. Bit of a struggle to think of anything interesting that happened to me this year. :-)

Michael Cooper said...

We're a bit lazy/geeky, so we keep our address lidt in a database, so we can mail merge our labels. Saves heaps of time!
And I write so little by hand these days, I fear my hand would drop off.

Unknown said...

If you return them with all the spelling, punctuation, typos, &c corrected in a seasonally coloured red pen, they tend not to send you another...

Anonymous said...

My year is probably best described as mixed given I went from having a family of 7 other people to a family of 1 but the other day I exchanged contracts on my first home. I have never done a Christmas letter but I am kind of
tempted to do one of the bullet point versions:
> June - lost entire family
> December - bought a home.
If I did it early enough I reckon I could pretty much guarantee I would not get any patronising questions at the regular Christmas parties. (Might seem a little callous but if I did not laugh I would cry and I much prefer laughing).

My suggestion for your letter Grog would be write it like a series of tweets.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

As far as I'm concerned Christmas letters fall into two categories - those from people you really like but who live at a distance so you miss out on a lot of their daily lives when you do catch up and so the letters fill gaps, and then there are those from (usually) distant relatives who have been writing these letters for so many years I'm sure all the names I don't recognise must be the fourth or fifth generation. Boring stuff.

I'm not a letter writer and find it hard to send cards to people unless they are close friends and family, yet I get tons of cards from people I scarcely know. My partner thinks I'm a disgrace, and perhaps I am but.........

Anonymous said...

A few lines neatly penned on the left, inner page of a card does me.

Anonymous said...

My parents get a letter from family friends whose letter explains every illness that each family member has had during the year. They are so detailed that you can almost calculate how much they got back from Medicare for the year.