Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Dreaded Christmas Letter

I finished it last night, the same day I heard the first complaint of the year about them. I'm not sure why but Christmas letters really seem to set some people off. Personally, I rather enjoy them -- especially from those people I never get to see and rarely get to hear from. Since my wife and I have lived in many places and our friends are scattered hither and yon, we started including a Christmas letter around the time when our kids were born. Nobody's ever complained directly to us, so they continue every year!

Yesterday, a friend mentioned that he hates getting Christmas letters in cards. My question was, "Do you mind getting the card?" Apparently receiving a card was no problem, it was the contents of the letter inside. So I asked, "Does that mean that you don't mind waving at people, but you'd rather not hear them talk?" Sure I was having a little fun with him, but the questions were rooted in my own genuine lack of understanding. Why is a card OK, but a letter isn't?

Tossing this whole idea around in my brain, I've come up with a couple of reasons why some find Christmas letters so deplorable. First is the impersonal tone of a mass produced, generic-enough-to-send-to-everyone letter. Form letters read like junk mail much of the time, I'll admit. But then again, the sentiment inside a Christmas card is rarely, um, inspiring.

Then there is the letter from people who seem to be digging for a little sympathy. I've never received one of these, but I know people who have. It tells of battles with diseases and financial problems and other stuff which seems to personal to broadcast to everyone on the Christmas card list. I'd have no problem with those, myself. I would think those people probably could use a little sympathy and attention -- especially in prayer -- so I'd be thankful for the heads up.

Sometimes Christmas letters are written from the perspective of a new baby or the family pet. It can be cute, but it might also get a little tiresome. Some letters go on and on for pages, or worse yet for someone whose vision is diminishing, they are typed using a small font to cram it all on one page, but it's too small to be readable. I've also heard of letters which dwell on things that even a best friend would find boring. One friend said that every year while growing up, his family received a Christmas letter from a relative which always mentioned her bowling average score for the year. Still, it was important to her, so who am I to say that nobody cares?

However the most common complaint about Christmas letters is that they read like brag sheets. The original complainer wrote:
The letters I get read something like this: We moved this year into a house that cost more than yours. Our kids are smarter than yours and better in sports. We vacation in better places than you do. Our pets can do more tricks than you. blah blah blah...
I'm sure there are plenty of people who write things to impress others, especially distant relatives. However, I've never read one written like my friend's example. He likely gets letters from people who like to talk about their accomplishments over the past twelve months. But regardless of the motivation of the author, the reader doesn't have to see it as a competition. If I got a letter from a long lost friend who talked about having a baby, winning the lottery and spending his year in exotic vacation spots, I'd be happy for him. Hey, I'd be tempted to brag about knowing him! I'm not sure why we begrudge others their good times, even if that Christmas letter is written purely to gloat. Perhaps it's a matter of learning to be satisfied in Christ and not looking to validate our existance with our accomplishments. It's not supposed to be a competition after all.

Still after all this, I'm grateful that a person has thought enough to include a summary of what is happening with their family in their annual greeting. Pictures are even better, even if I will never see these folks this side of heaven. I'm grateful that they thought enough of me to include me on the list, even if there is no information intended just for me included. And for those of you who still hate Christmas letters, just slip it out of the card and toss it in the trash without reading it. It'll be better for your blood pressure!

I hope that each Christmas letter you get reminds you that the sender is a blessing from God just for you. He or she might not be someone you'd love to spend a week with or even someone you could spend five minutes on the phone talking to, but that person is a pale reflection of God's love for you. And I pray that even in the too boring, too long, too cute and too braggadocious, we can all see the too loving, too forgiving, too merciful and too awesome God.

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