This is probably a Scrooge-esque impolitic question, but does anyone really, really, really care that the offspring of someone you barely know went spelunking in Antigua over the past year?
And thus we have the dilemma of the annual Christmas letter, which arrives each season to the stultifying dread of its recipients. Think of these things as the holiday fruitcake of language.
"Uh, could you please try to be just a bit more upbeat this year," the Nasturtium of Nordstrom's asked as I sat down to prepare this year's Yuletide missive. I suppose the 2008 letter about being laid off from a local sandwich board didn't quite capture the joy and brotherhood of the season.
After all, in past years I've always preferred to adopt a sort of existential Albert Camus meets Eugene O'Neill approach to the Christmas letter, namely that life has no meaning; it is filled with successive litanies of grief, misfortune and despair — resulting finally in death. And then there are the more unpleasant aspects to the human condition.
What else would you expect from someone whose favorite color is black?
Perhaps the only thing more depressing than reading my Christmas letter is reading everybody else's.
Once a year we have to be subjected to learning that Biff and Buffy essentially lived the exact same life as just about everyone else over the preceding 365 days. They either got a new job or (if they are lucky) remained in the one they had. They either moved or stayed in the same house. The kiddos either are still in school — or they are not.
We are told about second homes, or fabulous trips to Europe, which certainly offer vicarious thrills as we lick the Fancy Feast can for the last morsel.
Look, I don't mean to be rude — well, maybe a little bit — but for many people, with whom we have the merest of social contact yet who still insist on sending us Christmas cards with pictures of their children and a letter detailing their every drool, I not only don't care that they made the soccer team, but I barely remember even meeting them. Good grief, I barely remember meeting their parents.
And I despise soccer.
Can we basically all agree that unless you are: a) a contract CIA assassin, b) Barack Obama, c) Megan Fox, d) Capt. Sully Sullenberger or e) Tiger Woods, your Christmas letter is going to pretty much pale in comparison?
Or if you are going to insist on sending out a Christmas letter, could you please have the common decency to lie? Tell me about life in the witness protection program. Recount the moment you received the Nobel Peace Prize. Fill in the details about running into Osama bin Laden on a beach in Rio. And just how was that White House state dinner you and your spouse crashed?
If you have pets, especially large, goofy dogs, pictures are fine as long as they are doing embarrassing stuff like getting stuck in the toilet, or standing on the kitchen counter polishing off a Boston cream pie, or getting randy with the lawn mower.
You know, nothing says Christmas more than a golden retriever dressed up as one of Santa's elves.
To be perfectly fair, much of this Christmas letter cynicism is my own fault. When the most thrilling moment of the past year was writing a 30-page paper on the rhetoric surrounding the health care debate for graduate school, we're not exactly flirting with "Danger Is My Business" territory here.
And not to be outdone, the Bombshell of the Balkans cranked out her own graduate school treatise on the assassination of Lincoln. There were moments there when it was a virtual academic bloodsport to see who would have more footnotes.
The stockings are hung. The Christmas geegaws are in place around the house and of course, the boys, Donald Trump-In-Waiting and Chuck Yeager the Elder, have embraced an old, much revered family tradition of belittling our choice of Christmas tree and our ineptitude in decorating it. Good times. Good times.
There is only one more task to accomplish, aside from the run to the liquor store, and that is the drafting of the Christmas letter, anxiously awaited by our friends and family like the arrival of the swine flu virus.
"Uh, could you please try to be just a bit more upbeat this year?" mused the Marigold of Macy's.
Well, there was that heart attack back in November …