MY DAUGHTER and I argued a lot at Christmas, but the arguments weren't about what you think they were about, which was the fact that she shopped like a shopaholic for her school friends and spent, like, 10 seconds and my money on the people who are supposed to matter most to her, such as her nagging mother, her incredibly annoying father and her dork brother.
No. That's not what we fought over, although it would have been a good topic.
We argued over the fact that every day she would get to the mailbox first and open the Christmas cards and I would come home from work and see nothing but catalogs and junk mail on the kitchen table and would conclude that everybody in America had given up sending Christmas cards this year and nobody had told me.
My irritation with my so-called friends and would-be relatives grew daily, until I found the Christmas cards in the designated Christmas card basket, which is where they belong and where I would have put them after I had read them, which I hadn't, thanks to Little Miss Occupant or Current Resident.
But instead of a pile of generic winter cards from my sleep-in-on-Sunday friends or Madonna-and-child cards from my churchgoing friends, who seem to need to make a statement at this time of year, I found so many typewritten sheets of 8 1/2 by 11 paper that I thought I had stumbled on the missing Rose law firm files.
It seems that everyone I know felt the need to file a year-end report with their Christmas cards.
You will be relieved to hear, as I was, that the parents are happy and prospering, everyone is healthy including the family pet, the kids are thriving and successful in whatever extracurricular activity they are pursuing, and everybody but me went to Europe in 1998.
I run in with a pretty rich crowd, Christmas card-wise.
By the time I waded through all the paperwork in the Christmas card basket, I was exhausted and confused and could not have told you a thing about anyone I know, except that they all wish us a healthy and happy 1999.
Everyone ridicules these capsule summaries of family life, but nobody does anything about them. I'd rather get a Christmas card from a utility than wade through another one of these.
But every year, more and more of them arrive unbidden. It is as if everyone out there has decided these Christmas letters are a great idea. Based on what evidence? Has anyone ever called you after Christmas and said, "Hey. Got your card. But I know next to nothing about Jim's job or where you guys went last summer. You've simply got to do better next year. OK?"
It's all lies anyway.
Nobody tells the truth in those things.
If they did, Christmas letters might read something like this: "Dear Friends,
"Happy Hanukkah and/or Christmas.
"Jim and I are still together this year, although it gets harder and harder to put a holiday face on this marriage and we'll be lucky if we make it until the kids get out of high school.
"Speaking of the kids -- they are alternately annoying and disappointing.
"Jim Jr. spends most of his time in his bedroom with the headphones on, although he left long enough to get his tongue pierced, and little Lori may have to have the telephone surgically removed from between her ear and shoulder.
"I'd write more about them, but they never speak to either of us in complete sen tences, so I can't say what's going on in their lives except that the police haven't arrived at the door and that's a hopeful sign.
"Jim and I will both clock the big 5-0 this year, and what they say is true. Aging is not for sissies. All sorts of body functions are starting to break down.
"We went to the beach last summer, but it rained and everybody was irritable."
I understand the need to share more than a signature in holiday cards, but as long as the family names aren't preprinted, that's enough intimacy for me.
I admit that I wrote a Christmas letter one year. But I sent it in June and I used it to explain that all sorts of people we love had died and we had been too sad to send Christmas cards.
Pretty grim, I know.
But, hey. At least I was honest.
Pub Date: 1/05/99