Around Christmastime a couple of years ago, one of my friends
ranted about how much he hated those holiday "brag letters" people
send out each year. After making a mental note never to send him one
in the future, I began to wonder what it is that makes people so
irate about the good fortune of others.
I actually like hearing about what the people who lived down the
street from me 20 years ago are up to. Sure, it initially takes some
remembering to figure out who they are and why they're sending me
that card, but if it weren't for the annual tradition, it would be
easy to lose touch.
Of course, it's possible I'm defending the practice because I was
born into a family of serious yuletide letter writers. The annual
Vick Family Christmas Letter is an organized and well-thought-out
publication edited by my father. Although a pilot by profession,
Captain Vick's true calling in life may have been publishing.
Each November he begins the process with a call for submissions.
The letter is formatted so that each family member gets a little
blurb mentioning his or her highlights that year, and it is our job
to tell him what we'd like included.
Inevitably, one of my sisters or I complain, "Nothing exciting
has happened in our life this year," which forces my dad to
highlight some less-than-exciting event - like moving from seventh
to eighth grade.
Of course, it always seems that when you've had a slow year,
everyone else has had a banner one. This year my older sister's
section will probably read something like: "Jennifer is still
happily married and is finishing up her PhD program at Columbia."
Alternately, my blurb might read: "Despite being out of college
for seven years, Julie is working the front desk at a nonprofit and
taking a couple of graduate classes at night. She still isn't dating
anyone. Next year she promises to do something more exciting."
That last line actually appeared in one of the past editions. I'm
pretty sure it was in my section.
Once he's gathered the necessary material, my father puts the
finishing touches on the letter by sprinkling sarcasm throughout the
sections. Past letters have featured jokes about my mom being
"39++++++++" that year and my younger sister working on her "fifth
and, hopefully, final year of college."
Growing up, I never thought much about the letter until I started
hearing people say it's the one card they look forward to all
season. At family gatherings, complete strangers have come up to me,
shaken my hand, and asked me about my recent trip to Europe. …