I am not the Grinch. At one time Christmas was my favorite time of year. I grew up in a place that received snow every year—many times during the winter holidays. It seemed kind of magical. The time off from school, the change of seasons, and—of course—presents.
Then I grew up and had kids of my own and the Holiday season became about making it special for them. Actually I’m not sure I ever really grew up, but I certainly had children. Call me crazy but in addition to doing my best to make the holidays special for them, I also made certain they understood what we were celebrating. At that time political correctness was being invented, but had not yet been integrated with the infrastructure of our culture.
So I actually talked with them about the birth of the Son of God and what that meant to Christians. Which reminds me: I recently saw Bill Maher’s film Religulous. I think Bill is a very funny, surprisingly intelligent guy, but in my opinion he has the wrong idea about the Bible. I don’t want to get into it here; I just wanted to offer a nod to anyone who doesn’t quite buy into the whole Christian aspect of the holiday season. You’re entitled to that opinion; I don’t care—but if you’re offended that I mentioned the birth of the Son of the Almighty, step off. It’s freaking Christmas.
Over the years, however, I’ve become a little jaded about the holiday season, which seems to be less about holiness and more about parties and commercialism. Have you ever noticed that people on the road become absolutely unbearable during the holidays? Also, I noticed that there are two variables that turn otherwise courteous drivers into road-rage warriors:
- Christmas Eve
- Your local shopping mall
It seems that the intensity of the rage enjoys a linear relationship to how many calendar days we are from the 25th of December and how many miles you are from the shopping Mecca in your part of town. Isn’t it great the way people greet the Salvation Army volunteer on the 23rd with a twenty and a Merry Christmas on their way to the car and then offer vulgar gestures if they think you cut them off leaving the parking lot? Classy.
Then there are all the other unwanted intrusions—like Christmas decorations and incessant holiday music the day after Thanksgiving. Look; I just don’t want to hear dogs from 1955 singing Jingle Bells because I hit the wrong button on my car radio. It was a clever trick at the time but how about this? Archive that crap and bring it out to amaze high school students once each year or as a college exercise in psych 101 when you’re covering Pavlov.
Also, some of the traditional music starts to lose its meaning. Hark the Herald Angels Sing andhave been functionally reduced to children’s nursery rhymes. For those who don’t subscribe to a Christian approach to life it doesn’t mean anything in the first damned place, and for those who do you’ve killed the original meaning when it comes up in rotation as list play 243; for the Faithful it has been reduced to meaningless gibberish.
Next we have the proclivity to run up your credit card balance because of the pressure to artificially make it special to friends and loved ones. Do your kids really need the latest electronic gaming box or iThingy? Does your wife or girlfriend really need another piece of jewelry or perfume or some other expensive trinket? Does your boyfriend or husband really want that shirt, tie or whatever girls buy for guys these days? Please. Pick me up a box of practice handgun ammo and be done with it. It’s 20 bucks and I can buy my own clothes.
This brings me to my own personal holiday burden: the dreaded family Christmas letter. That unattractive sound you just heard was me groaning as I sit at this sports bar drafting this entry. Don’t get me wrong I love to write—but this beast is just so unwieldy. First of all, it’s not even to my family. It’s to Heidi’s family.
Recently my family has started to become closer—but for a decade and a half it hasn’t been that way. Heidi’s family, however, is very close and always has been. They call each other. They keep in touch. They know what’s going on in each others’ lives. And, of course, they have a family Christmas letter. The purported purpose of the letter is to keep in touch and to know what’s going on in each others’ lives—but wait. They do that without the Christmas letter, and yet this chore falls to me. Why? Because I’m known as the writer in the family.
Now what’s interesting to me is that my wife also wrote and published a book as well. So why am I the writer who is asked to take on the burden of writing the Christmas letter to her family about what they’ve been doing all year, even though they already know what they’ve been doing all year? Because she said so; that’s why.
Now this year, I’m not doing anything anyway. I’m just hanging around waiting for the next thing, and so writing the family Christmas letter isn’t really that big of a deal—but there’s always a catch. The catch in this case is that my wife is the assigner and I am the assignee. What that means is that I am working for her, and by extension she has to approve the final product. It also means that I’m not compensated directly. Well she does give me an allowance, which I spend on fast food, whiskey, and beer—but you get the point.
As I sat at my desk two weekends ago watching 1,000 Ways to Die, a series on bizarre ways that people have been accidentally killed, she tossed the assignment across my desk to me in the form of a directive. Heidi often addresses me in this way because, as I’ve already pointed out, she’s in charge of me.
“I need you to write the family Christmas letter.”
“I did that last year and you rewrote it.”
“No; I edited it.”
“I’m pretty sure you rewrote it.”
Raising her voice, she insisted “I edited it!”
“I need talking points for your parents.” She left my office and returned about two minutes later with a bullet list. “Pretty impressive.” I thought. “Do I have a deadline?”
“When is it?”
“OK.” I responded as I turned Netflix back on to watch deathtrap #20: a man crawls into an industrial clothes drier to inspect it and the door closes behind him. Whoa! Totally gruesome. Why the hell am I watching this crap?
I turned it off, reviewed the bullet list from Heidi, pulled up Word, and began to write. For the next two hours I crafted a beautiful tribute to her father, mother, sister, grandmother, and her, with an honorable mention of myself. Virtues were extolled. Tribulations and successes alike were offered. The living of life was celebrated. All in Heidi’s voice.
Did I mention that this was an assignment from Heidi’s mother? No; I didn’t think so. Her mother always looks to her for this assignment, and Heidi invariably passes it onto me. It is a labor of love in which I say the things about each family member I think Heidi would say so that her mother will not be disappointed.
Noon o’clock rolled around and I was done. I walked into our bedroom where she was working diligently on whatever Heidi works on when I’m watching Netflix and YouTube videos.
“I’m done. Do you want to look at it?”
“Sure!” she replied enthusiastically.
I waited impatiently wanting to head out for time with the guys. She made a few minor corrections, giggled a couple of times, and seemed truly touched on one or two occasions as she read my sterling copy. When she was done she looked up at me and smiled. “That was very nice honey.” Smugly I inquired “Am I dismissed?” “Yes.” she replied. “I just need to tighten it up a bit.” Off I went for beer and pub-grub.
Fast-forward to the next afternoon. After wasting most of the day plotting Texas secession from the Union, I wandered into her office and asked “What’s happening?” She answered “Just working on the Christmas letter.”
“You’ve been working on it for a while.”
Puzzled, I left the room. A few hours later I overheard her talking to her mother on the phone. She was dictating the “tightened up” version of the letter I so lovingly crafted. I entered the room and listened as she read the foreign sounding tome into her high-tech cell phone. Sometime later she hung up and she looked over at me. I guess the horror on my face was apparent. “What?” she inquired.
“You rewrote it.”
“No; I edited it.”
“You portrayed your dad as a former covert agent, running drugs for the CIA. He was a B52 pilot in the Air Force during the cold war.”
“Right. It’s a where are they now kind of format. Mom loved it.”
“You said your sister was interviewed by Entertainment Tonight.“
“Yes. I thought it would be funny.”
“I thought the point was to inform the rest of the family of what we’ve been doing for the last year.”
“Right. So I referenced the kind of thing they used to do in an exaggerated way and made it relevant to what they’re doing now. It’s called creative license; look into it.”
“You said your mother was on a reality TV show flipping houses!”
“Well she did make a lot of money buying old houses in the right neighborhood and fixing them up.”
Nonplussed, I shook my head and offered “I see.” I then shuffled out of the room, poured a glass of scotch, and put on some traditional Christmas music.
Newsflash: Jesus just cancelled his tickets for the Second Coming.