Dear Loved Ones Near and Far

Santa Claus is stealing relentlessly down Santa Claus Lane, whether we are ready for him or not.  It’s time to drag out the boxes that you stashed under the basement stairs last Christmas and dust off the Annual Traditions.

We all have our favorites.  For instance, at my house, my husband and I always open the season by waging the Annual Christmas Tree Stand War.  From the first year when he assured me that a bucket of sand was all we needed to keep the tree upright, I have not yet won that war.  The tree always leans merrily to one side, dropping ornaments and needles in gay profusion everywhere.

Personally, I don’t prefer that sort of gay profusion.

But I retaliate with the Christmas Morning Soufflé.  I fix it religiously every year even though no one seriously cares to eat it.  It is, after all, a tradition.  I got the recipe at church, so it must be the True Tradition.

My favorite tradition, though, is reading the Annual Brag Letters that lurk inside those gala green and red envelopes the mailman brings.  These are the letters that, Grinch-like, I have always loved to hate.  For one thing, I am morally opposed to any form letter that begins with protestations of love, as in “Dear Loved Ones Near and Far.”

Then one Christmas, after hastily scrawling heartfelt notes on Christmas cards to at least 50 of my closest, most personal friends and cherished family members, I decided to take a second look at the Annual Christmas Letter Tradition.  Perhaps, I decided, there is room in the world for fond regards of the mimeographed variety.  And in a startling moment of self-revelation, I had to admit that not only did I enjoy reading the Brag Letters, secretly, in my heart of hearts. truthfully, I wanted to try my hand at writing one.

There are rules, of course, that you must follow in writing a Brag Letter.  These unwritten rules are part of a venerable tradition. For instance, you must always begin your letter as generically as possible. “Greetings from Our House to Your House” is the perennial favorite, but “Dearest Family and Friends” will do. It rings of sincerity.

Hi Everyone greeted the lucky recipients of my first letter. That seemed to cover all the bases; those not particularly near or dear to me were still included. With a beginning as generic as this, I could give my letter to anyone I could dupe into reading it.

Next, refer nonchalantly to your family vacation. Mention casually that you had time for all the usual boat trips, and then reel off the names of seven or eight lakes. Briefly tell how much fun you had for two weeks on the Big Island with the entire gang, and with modest anticipation, tell about the Caribbean cruise on next year’s agenda. Be humble.

Chuck thinks he is going to Alaska this coming summer. My father has suggested that he might enjoy touring Highway 50 in Nevada instead.

Be sure to tell about the children’s many activities and accomplishments. At this point, it’s okay to go into the full-blown brag mode. All parents do it. Explain that your daughter turned down an appointment to West Point to take the Harvard scholarship. If your son broke his own record when he won the state wrestling championship again this year, here is the place to say so. Lacking these little tidbits, itemize piano lessons, soccer teams, Cub Scout activities, and baton-twirling lessons. Never mind that half the kids in America take piano lessons and play soccer.

John wrestled on the junior high team and earned a spot on the varsity team, which meant he got to wear the fancy knee pads at tournaments. In his first tournament, he got a fine black eye, so we felt the event was a success.

If your family includes very young children who have not yet started piano lessons or joined a soccer team, there might not be much to brag about. That is why Brag Letter writers invented the phrase “mommy’s little helper.” Use it sparingly, though, because everyone knows it’s fraudulent. That phrase has been conspicuously absent from most of the Christmas letters I have sent.

The closest I come to having a helper is Carson, my “tough guy helper.” He is in charge of helping me do anything he thinks I need help with, and most of the time I can undo the damage.

While still in the bragging mode, be sure to refer casually to your own job. State modestly that the enormous branch over which you preside as bank manager had the biggest loan and deposit generation ever. Brag that your piano studio has 400 happy, accomplished student pianists and will have twice that many next year. Add, too, that you work out every morning, playing basketball and lifting weights and that you never break a sweat.  Remember that it doesn’t hurt to liven up the truth a little; people reading the letter will never check your facts.

Chuck is still working for El Paso Natural Gas. He explained to me once that he is an inspector in this life. At least, that is what El Paso pays him to do. I think it means to him that he is better at watching people work rather than actually participating. Maybe that is why he is not mommy’s little helper.

So-called “stay-at-home” dads or moms don’t need to brag about their jobs. Simply mention how busy you are, what with kids, PTA, sitting on various boards and commissions, and volunteering in the community and at church. Busyness implies importance. Complain gently that you are stretched too far.

I have been very busy this year boycotting various companies that don’t see as I do about TV violence and why we should all love and support the Boy Scouts. So far all my boycottees are still in business, but I occasionally send them letters to remind them that I am still ignoring them.

If your family includes teenagers, by all means, say so. You deserve all the sympathy you can get. Commiserate with your readers that your son has gotten his driver’s license and totaled only one car so far. Mention that at least the ceiling in your daughter’s room is clean and that you got to use the phone once yesterday.

John turned 13 this year, a teenager at last. I can tell he’s a teenager because more and more of his conversations begin with, “Oh yeah, I need __________” (fill in dollar amount here). He also rolls his eyes a lot and has developed an aversion to answering intrusive questions like “How was school?”

Last and most important, finish your letter with sober good wishes for a happy Christmas and fond regards for dear ones near and far. And humbly acknowledge that you hope their year has been as good as yours.

While I am composing this letter of Christmas cheer, Andrew is squatting on the dining table dismantling the Christmas centerpiece. He has not learned the fine art of keeping a low profile. Christmas or no Christmas, it’s time to run—later!

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