When I was growing up I loved reading the Christmas letters from my extended family. I guess it gave me an escape from my own family and fed my idealistic hopes for the world, for me really. Perfect weather descriptions that felt straight out of Narnia. Children who made the grades or aspired to be something respectable, like a doctor, a missionary, a teacher, or a business leader. Perfectly posed family photos, some with matching clothes. Big, happy smiles. Lots of smiles. Any bumps in the road seemed minor, temporary setbacks. Setbacks weren’t the focus, and the gravity of life seemed a no-no.
My mom also wrote Christmas letters every year for family and friends, and I sometimes drew my cheesy (cute) Christmas artwork to be featured somewhere in the margins, or at the signature line. It didn’t feel as perfect reading about our lives, probably because I lived it, and I couldn’t wish or dream about life by reading about my own small family. However, everything did have a way of feeling neat, packaged, and you know, not so bad after all.
But what do you write about when your life falls apart? What’s the purpose of the Christmas letter then? I vaguely remember contemplating this concept when my parents got a divorce. I was an adult by then, but seriously, what do you say?
I faced these questions again several years later when I finally faced my own marital problems. I had just confronted my then husband a few months prior, I didn’t have an ounce of trust left, we were holding out to see if we could/would make the marriage still work, and I remember wishing I was dead (I wasn’t suicidal; I just didn’t want to live with all that pain and chaos). I didn’t want to write about anything, and I didn’t feel like celebrating the previous year with some charming or witty Christmas letter. Two years later, I still feel roughly the same way about writing a Christmas letter, even though I’ve healed considerably thanks to Jesus, counseling, supportive family, and discovering true friends.
I have concluded that for those of us who actually read Christmas letters, we don’t generally expect the content to contain vulnerability or an unpolished life. Christmas letters are like the Instagram photos of the personal, unpublished writing world. But what if one year we would just get honest with our friends and family? What if we let people see the real, mostly unpolished us? I bet people would enjoy the honesty, even if it makes them a little uncomfortable. I also think it would encourage them to show more real honesty too. Something to think about on this Black Friday. When and if I write that Christmas letter again, maybe it will feel more genuine.