|You emptied the dishwasher? I’ll put it in the Christmas letter!|
I’ve spent the past 25+ years announcing that I’ll never write a form letter to include in my Christmas cards. I love getting them from other people, especially now that everyone has outgrown the need to make up achievements about their children. (Not getting detention in February should not make the cut. Ever.)
In lieu of a Christmas form letter, for many years I wrote personal letters to all of our friends out of town. As we moved and left friends and neighbors behind, our Christmas card list grew and I had to start writing the letters in early October.
This year, I don’t know what came over me, but I heard myself say to my husband, “I’m thinking maybe we should do a Christmas letter this year.”
He surprised me by not following my previous instructions to shoot me on the spot. “Well, make it funny. And write about new traditions instead of old ones. No one wants to read about old stuff.”
I didn’t end up doing it, because writing a Christmas form letter is hard. Why didn’t I know that? I would have appreciated them so much more, especially the long ones, single spaced.
So here is my Christmas form letter that I’m not sending.
The Fitzpatrick family continues to be blessed. This year was an accomplishment-filled year, free from drama and badness – other than Jack getting teargassed by police at college and Mike showing up in his local newspaper holding an assault weapon. There were perfectly good explanations for both of those incidents. And like always, they started out, “Hi Mom, I just wanted to call to let you know about something before you read about it on Facebook.”
With children 17, 20 and 24, it could have been worse. I could go on and on about my children’s accomplishments, but this isn’t an Honor Student bumper sticker, so I’ll spare you. It’s a given that we’re really proud of our children. They seem to bear no resemblance to the kids we neglected during the Blender Drink Years of 1995-2002. (That was a close one.)
[Here’s the part where I talk about traditions. There would have been a segue leading up to it, but I couldn’t think of anything. I’m telling you, this is hard.]
I’ve always tried to stay thigh-deep in traditions. Every Christmas, I would insist that the kids participate in the building of the gingerbread house (graham crackers on a beer case, covered in cheap candy); the making of the annual ornament (think popsicle sticks, glitter and 3 quarts of Elmer’s glue); decorating cookies (except for the year we just ate the frosting right out of the bowl, distracted by VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s”); and driving around looking at Christmas lights (up to and including the part where the kids start whining and asking why WE don’t have our house decorated by professional light-putter-onners and I threaten to cancel Christmas altogether).
On Christmas Eve, our family traditions also included everyone opening one gift. This is something my family did when I was growing up, so it was, of course, the right and only thing to do. My husband doesn’t like it and every year acts all surprised that we are going to open a gift. He then accuses me of ruining Christmas morning joy. But we keep on doing it. The decision over which gift to open always adds just enough suspense to the evening. It you opened a book or a clo, it was a little disappointing; best if you could open a toy. You’d get to play with it the whole night. The gift you open on Christmas Eve always has an air of seniority about it. By 9 a.m. on Christmas Day, it seemed like you’d had it forever. It is set apart, older and wiser than all of the other Christmas gifts.
Now that our kids are growing up, we’ve had to adjust to some new traditions.
Visitation with our oldest son via a computer screen
No, he’s not in prison. That assault weapon thing was staged. He lives in China and since the Chinese government doesn’t look kindly on its comrades taking a week off at Christmas, we don’t get to see him at the holidays. To compensate, we prop a laptop on the piano bench and Skype with him while we open our one present on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t have anything to open. We send him gifts through the mail, but some of them don’t make it; the ones that do, he opens immediately upon arrival. On Christmas Day, after Skyping with us, he works for 8 hours. Despite all the red everywhere, communism is not very festive.
Don’t even get me started on this. After 20 years of the kids setting secret alarms for 5 a.m.; Dad sneaking into the kids’ rooms to turn off the alarms; the kids setting super secret alarms in their underwear drawer for 4:30 a.m.; Dad setting his own super super secret alarm for 4 a.m. (just to mess with them), I had decided just to have a third eggnog and brandy and stay up all night watching VH1’s nostalgia shows. Then suddenly no one wanted to get up at all to open gifts, and we started having to wake the kids up at noon by telling them that their presents were on fire. Meanwhile, I had gotten accustomed to that 2-5 a.m. eggnog-and-brandy tradition (addiction is such a strong word . . .), so I had the biggest adjustment to make.
Spending the teacher gift money on brandy
For years I spent a lot of time and money shopping for teachers – school teachers, piano teachers, CCD teachers and coaches. And there’s only so much regifting you can do before you start giving someone the gift that they bought you a week ago. Now, my kids wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a fluffy gift bag into – – anywhere. So the adults who are mentoring my children are going to have to be happy with the knowledge that without their tutelage, my poor kids would be stuck with me. And I’m on my fourth eggnog and brandy.