15 Sep 2014
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The Holiday Letter

It's that time again. Update the family and friends on the year you've had.

The Holiday Letter The Holiday Letter The Holiday Letter The Holiday Letter The Holiday Letter

So, we’re smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season. And even though I don’t know what “smack dab” means, I do know that this is one of the busiest times of the year. In fact, it seems that my holiday to-do list will never get to-done.

Thanksgiving was easy. Fight the traffic. Eat some food. Go home. It was all about managing my caloric intake and tolerating dysfunctional relatives. It was pretty simple.

Christmas, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. We’ve got gifts to buy, a house to decorate, food to cook, and for me, the dreaded letter to write.

Every year, many of us Americans craft an annual “holiday letter” informing friends and relatives about our abundantly spectacular and uniquely wonderful lives. We explain how our above-average children just missed the Olympic gold medal while keeping their grades up in hopes of a Rhodes Scholarship; how our extraordinary jobs give us great benefits, stock options, and keys to the executive washroom; how we’ve traveled to exotic places that others only dream about; and how if our lives were any better, we’d just explode—but not before telling you all about it. And not once, do we consider that just about everyone who receives our letter cares more about their own insignificant lives than ours. So, we blindly persevere.

Since I am the so-called humorist in our family, I’m responsible for creating our atypical holiday letter. It’s a long-standing Culberson tradition that started with a hilarious recap of our year from the perspective of our dog, Spike. When Spike died, without my permission I might add, it threw a wrench in my holiday letter plans. Since then, I’ve had to come up with a different theme each year. From mock high school superlatives to hanging chads to fake Facebook status updates, I try to write something humorous to mask the boring family updates. 

But, if you want to know the truth, it’s a pain in the mistletoe. 

I’ve got too much to do to worry about putting a new twist on the same old family details. So, each year, I put off the writing until my wife Wendy threatens to write the letter herself—which is definitely not a good idea, from a humorous-creative perspective, that is. Under duress, I cram for several hours forcing my feeble brain to write something different from the previous 25 letters. Then, I re-write it 37 times because Wendy thinks I’m being too edgy, not funny enough, or too much of a braggart. But, let’s be honest, there are only so many ways to say, “Our daughter goes to University of Virginia, the best public university in the country.” (OK, as a graduate of UVA, I know there may be another way to say that. But I digress.)

Once the letter is written, we retrieve the awkwardly posed family photo, taken just for this letter, pick a festive red and green card template from Walgreens, and then send the whole package out to our unsuspecting recipients.

Ultimately, someone will say they liked the letter, thus encouraging my wife to make sure we repeat the entire process eleven months later. Ugh.

The ironic thing about the holiday letter is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the meaning of Christmas. In fact, my only reference to Christ is when it occurs to me that I can’t put off writing it any more. And that’s definitely not in the spirit of the holiday.

But Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. And while his birth was announced in quite a spectacular way, with the star, the wise men and the kings, Mary didn’t send out a photo card each year thereafter saying, “Jesus walked on water today. And he continues to get straight A’s in Hebrew.”

No. The Christmas story was all about humility. It was about the way Jesus lived rather than how he told people he lived.

There might be a good lesson here. Perhaps if I spent more time with my family rather than writing a letter about my family, I would be doing them and the people who have to read it a service.

“What’s that honey? I need to get started on this year’s letter? OK. I’ll get on it right after I shove pine cones in my eyes.”

Happy holidays...from our family to yours!

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