When I married my husband Aaron I was well aware of his political leanings, his thoughts on religion, and that he was a saver not a spender. What I did not know was that he came from a family of Christmas-card writers. Growing up, when we received Christmas letters my mother’s eye-roll was audible. “How nice!” she would say, her voice bubbling over with snark, “The Smiths are Christmasing in Arizona this year!”
With an evil chuckle my sister would add, “Maybe they should wedge a sentence in about the keg party their daughter threw last summer while they were in Florida between the reports of the Ivy League school she got into and their volunteer work.”
God forbid someone sent a photo card with their family dressed in matching leis posed on a beach in Hawaii. That really got under my mom’s skin. “We get it, your kids are cute! You can afford expensive family vacations!”
We were ruthless Christmas-letter and Christmas-photo mockers.
The first holiday season I spent with my husband, the Christmas cards from his family filled our mailbox. They all included letters. Pleasant and to the point, they filled in family members and friends on the ups and downs of the writers’ lives. I found them impossible to read without cringing. When Aaron came home from work one day, I held one of these letters in my hands gingerly and read it using my best British accent. I cracked myself up. Aaron was not amused.
“You’re kind of a jerk.” He said matter-of-factly.
I shrugged, “I could get behind these letters if they included the God’s honest truth. Things like, ‘My kid was awarded MVP on his soccer team and also, we found a four-foot bong hidden in his closet.’ If they could just be a little bit more honest.”
“Most of them live in Minnesota. I don’t even think they sell bongs there,” was Aaron’s honest response.
“They sell bongs everywhere,” I retorted.
When our second Christmas rolled around my husband asked if I minded writing a Christmas letter. “You’re a better writer than I am. But if you don’t write it, I will.”
Shock. Horror. “I don’t think I can do it,” I told him.
“It’s not a big deal. It’s just a letter,” he pleaded.
“Remember after Roger’s wedding,” I said, “how all of my aunts and uncles gathered in Aunt Rose’s hotel room?”
“They were doing a ‘rehash.’ That is what they call it. It’s where they go over the events of the night and talk shit about all of us. That’s when they came up with the name SpongeBob for my cousin’s husband. Most people don’t even know his real name anymore. He is just SpongeBob. And you are Mr. Braun, not Aaron. I still haven’t figured out why, but I am sure the reason is not a pleasant one. In my family Christmas letters are a faux pas. They are looked upon as brag fests. We don’t do them, and if I do, I will end up with a nickname like Mrs. Claus or Elf or something similarly ridiculous. It’s just not done. They will get together and rehash it and I will never live it down.”
“You are being dramatic.” Aaron said with a sigh.
I was, and because I love my husband, I wrote the letter. It was a snarky, sarcastic, and self-deprecating account of our year. I discussed the loneliness I felt living all the way in San Diego while the rest of my family and friends were in the Midwest. I talked about the anorexic looking palm trees, our crappy apartment, and how everyone in California wore flip-flops instead of actual shoes, which forced me to know what people’s toes looked like before I even knew what their names were. It was all the things a Christmas letter should not be. I even bravely sent it out to my side of the family. To my relief, my uncle called to tell me how funny he thought it was. My mom’s comment upon reading hers was simple: “I see you have become Christmas-letter writers.”
That was the last Christmas letter I ever wrote. Aaron never asked again. It is one of many concessions we have made for one another in our marriage. We have, however, become the type of family that sends out Christmas photo cards. They are an unrealistic glimpse into our lives. I engage in shameless bribery to get my kids to agree to wear color-coordinated outfits and pose nicely with one another without tears or fist fights breaking out. But over the years I have come to enjoy sending out our picture cards and reading the letters my husband’s family sends. I like to know that there are less cynical people in my life that find silver linings in their lives and write them down for us to read about.