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Forgotten Tradition

December 5, 2002

Mr. Karen and I wrote our paragraph for his parents’ Christmas letter last night. Well, I did a very rough first draft, and he did the rest, turning my disconnected sentences into a cohesive story. Until his mom called a few days ago to ask for it, I’d forgotten all about having to write this—obviously, or I would have mentioned it in my holiday traditions entry last week, since we’ve been doing it together every November or December for the sixteen years we’ve been married. Not even getting the first Christmas letter of the season from a cousin triggered any thought that it was about time we get to writing up our own 2002 summary.

Some years, our lives haven’t changed much from the last letter, and it’s hard to think up something fresh to write. “Mr. Karen and Karen still work for the same employers and still live in the same house with the same guinea pig and still spend most of their disposable income taking vacations and haven’t taken up any new hobbies” does not a satisfactory paragraph make. This year, Mr. Karen bailed us out by getting an article published—his first—in a magazine. With that news to share as the lead in our paragraph, no one is likely to notice that the rest of the story is pretty much the same as it was in 2001.

Sometimes we have plenty to write about and the difficult part is deciding what to include. It’s easy to know what’s too personal but harder to decide what constitutes bragging. We’re fortunate to be able to afford to do things that many people can’t, and to go on and on about how great a time we had skiing in France or staying at the Grand Californian for a week seems like rubbing it in. Yet not mentioning those kinds of experiences leaves us with a lot less interesting material. We usually just highlight one or two trips and leave the rest out. Anyone who’s close to us has already heard about all of our adventures, anyway.

So our contribution for this year is done and e-mailed off to Mr. Karen’s parents for them to compile with the paragraphs from his sisters before adding their own stories. Of course, what we send them is subject to editing; it is their letter, after all. I’m pretty sure if I’d slipped “Karen grew a fibroid as big as a peach” into the paragraph when Mr. Karen wasn’t looking that I wouldn’t see that in the finished version, though now that I have this journal, where I can write whole essays about things that are inappropriate for the Christmas letter, such mischief is much less tempting.

I’m looking forward to seeing the finished version. I love to read these letters no matter whose family they come from. I’m fascinated by how people choose to present themselves. It’s especially interesting to read the letters from people I know well, to see what they put in and what they leave out. I know some people are put off by the impersonal aspect of Christmas letters and would prefer a handwritten note of even just one or two sentences rather than multiple paragraphs copied and sent to everyone, but I enjoy receiving both, the same way I like to read online journals as well as exchange personal e-mail with some of the people who write them.

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