Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Alternative Holiday Letter

What Santa does on his off time
Every year I write a holiday letter to stick in with the Christmas cards.  I even managed to pull one together the year Kelsey died.  I'm not sure how, but I wanted to talk about her upcoming art exhibit, so I made myself do it.  And because of it, my friend Betty knew to come and that was the last time I really got to spend time with her, so...

But anyway, it occurred to me this year that there is a certain narcissism inherent in writing holiday letters in a social media world.  Most of the people you know well enough to exchange cards or gifts with also connect with you on Facebook and can catch up with you online, via text or phone or even video chat.  Therefore, do the ones who don't know you well enough to do any of that even really care what you've been up to over the past year?

And then they have to have a certain tone to them, because they are, after all, holiday letters, so I always felt like I had to keep them light.  And they don't allow for a lot of room to delve into issues too deeply anyway, so they can only skim the surface of an individual's complex life in the course of a year.  Once the Beast entered our home, our lives were anything but light or simple, particularly during the holidays - the Mean Season.  But, I've always persisted in crafting something, no matter how much it didn't really represent what was truly happening to us, because we have friends and family who, believe it or not, aren't really on social media, and care enough to hear from us at least.  And so I did this year.  If you end up getting one from me, it's all true.  Just like all the others were.  But there's a lot I didn't say.  So, here's my alternative version where I get to say a little bit more:

"Dear Friends and Family,

So, here we are again.  It's the holidays.  Some of you love them, some of you hate them.  I want to love them, but I in fact tend to loathe them.  You probably think that's because of Kelsey.  And you'd be right, but I'm not a fan for other reasons too, which I'll explain.

First of all, who decided that the holidays should also be when you're expected to give to charities?  I know, I know, it's the end of the year, sliding in of the tax deductible contribution thing, plus the need is greater.  But, my theory is that kids who are hungry at Christmas are hungry in June too.  Let's give to them all year long, not just at the holidays.  As I write, I have a stack of mail on my kitchen counter from charities I've supported in the past:  Red Cross, Safeplace, Habitat for Humanity, The Carnegie Museums, the Pittsburgh Symphony (who keep telling me I pledged $100 and I keep telling them there's no way I would do that over the phone), and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.  That's just the last couple of days.  My email inbox is much worse.  I hate looking at them.  They're all deserving in their own ways (which is why I've supported them at some point in the past), but I can't possibly support them all now.  I HATE the guilt and the pressure.  I'm just trying to pay my bills here people.  Please, please leave me alone.

Then there's the whole gift giving thing.  I love buying presents for people.  I put a LOT of time and effort into it.  It doesn't always work out quite as well as I would hope.  And that hurts me more than you know.  Because I do want you to love what I get you, but if we've known one another for a long time, odds are that at some point, I'll misfire on the choice I make.  For example, last year I thought I just slayed it with the gift I got one family in particular.  The father didn't like his part and had his daughter ask me how he could return it.  Don't tell me that!  Just go exchange it for something you like.   Or at least thank me for the effort first.  I was crushed.  You know, my mom got me stuff often that I didn't care for because it was her tastes, not mine, but I always knew a lot of love and effort went into it, so I appreciated all of that useless crap for that reason.  I still have some of it because I look at it and it reminds me that someone loved me enough to do something for me (some of it I dumped like a hot potato as soon as I could, but the point is:  she never knew).  That's not to say you have to keep something I gave you that you don't want, but understand that the lack of appreciation for the effort cuts like a knife.  Think about that as you respond to your loved one's gifts this year.

And that's the other thing:  when did gift giving become such an obligation?  There are people who plan to send us gifts this year who really can't afford it, but feel like they have to.  No, you don't.  I have so much stuff already.  You can just tell me you can't do it.  Or pick one of those charities I listed and send them $10 in my name.  Lifting that weight of guilt off my shoulders would do more than you know.  If I send you something, then accept that it's because I want to and don't feel like there is a quid pro quo.  But please also know that I had my own challenges this year.  My gifts are not as elaborate as they have been in the past.  Please, please, don't be offended by that or feel slighted.  Honestly, I think we've all lost the whole point of the season in our material world.  And I include myself in that.  But, you know what I really, really want?  Just your friendship.  It's been a hard year.  I feel lonely sometimes and a little afraid about what my future will hold.  Sometimes I could use a shoulder - even if it's just virtual.  That doesn't cost you much.  Just be there for me when I need it.  That's the greatest gift of all.

For the first time in over 30 years, I will face the holidays without Greg by my side.  That's a little depressing.  I'll confess that I began this holiday season in a rotten, rotten mood as a result.  It's been hard to figure out what to write to you and give you any sense of holiday cheer.  But, I've been contemplating the life and death of Nelson Mandela since I heard the news and pondering how a white woman on another continent can best honor the great man's memory.  I've decided it's by trying to embody the lessons his life taught us.  There are many to choose from.  But for me, now, at this moment, it's not to give up on hope and give in to despair.  Therefore, I plan on squaring my shoulders, holding my head up high and being thankful for the things I do have:  my beautiful daughter Marissa, healthy now and sober, my pets, the roof over my head and the food in my pantry (tiny as it may be).  I am grateful that I am fortunate enough to have come to Pittsburgh and found the place where I truly belong.  I thank all of you for what you have been to me and my family over the years.  I am blessed in my friends.  And while I don't see them much, I am ever so grateful for my mom's family, who accept me as one of their own.  I will rejoice in Sidney Crosby's 3 assists and Marc Andre Fleury's 44 saves against one of the best teams in hockey and choose not to despair a football season in shambles.  I hope much the same for all of you.  Hug the family around you tight and realize that they are your real gift, not that material stuff under the tree.

Much love, Cheryl"

Tum Tum posed the question, "What?  You mean these aren't all mine?"

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