Christmas · cultivating gratitude

The Christmas Letter: A Work of Art

Christmas letters are extremely amazing works of art, if you stop to think about it.

It’s difficult to nail down what exactly is going to appeal to a large group of readers. The stakes are especially high when the audience is made up of people you genuinely care about and don’t want to risk offending or boring to death. Add to that the fact that you have only one piece of paper and a limited amount of word space (unless you’re one of those super-rare birds such as myself who will fly in the face of all normalcy and use two papers but never mind).

It’s touchy because: 1. You hate to sound like an arrogant so-and-so by listing each of your travel destinations, committee involvements, current child accomplishments and career advancements and disclosing the total jars of canning now lining your entire pantry. 2. You dislike sharing a ton of your own personal life details without hearing some from someone else, but how do you get that in a letter without sounding gossipy?

Those are just two of the significant hurdles we face when crafting Christmas letters. Of course we can and many will simply wing it, trusting that the reader will understand our heart and read between the numbers and place names. Others, after agonizing over ways to delicately share the sensitive news that they neither planted or harvested a garden and just can’t see themselves getting any Christmas baking done this year, will simply opt to skim over the details, vaguely referring to their “busy summer” and “no big Christmas plans”.

Still others will stay completely mum and refrain from sending Christmas letters at all, feeling certain that details of their extensive beach vacations and practically unlimited canned salsa or Pinterest pins will be of no interest or use whatsoever to their inner circle of friends.

The difficult reality, of course, is that many of these are what is known as “first world problems”. For example, if we lived in a place such as the beautiful yet remote hillsides of Bangladesh (and I have never been there but I do have a friend currently residing there who can tell us just how far off I am), I am assuming that most of our life would be consumed with matters more related to basic survival than myriad trivial but potentially-headache-inducing details such as how much to spend on Christmas cards, who to mail them to and what the optimal mailing date is (or figuring out which date is technically too late to be considered Christmas mail, as the case may be), and so on.

If we stepped away from our cozy arm chairs, late model laptops and smart phones, shut off our beautiful lamps, and threw aside the luxe throws and pillows and experienced poverty alongside the world’s majority, would our Christmas letters read differently? What kind of details would we share? Would we be more grateful?

Would we care about the things we care about today? I doubt we can fully comprehend that lifestyle without first-hand experience but one thing we can know for sure is that we likely wouldn’t have a chance to share Christmas cards at all, let alone with such an extensive network of friends worldwide.

I’m so grateful to have had opportunities to cross paths with so many fabulous friends throughout my life! I may not have left the country this year (well, hardly my house either, and barely the province!) but that doesn’t mean I can’t connect with friends from other places by email, phone call, text message and fax. I may not have been super virtuous on the cooking/sewing/cleaning front this year but we have the means to buy all the clothing we need as well as some we don’t and are never in want of warm clothing (aside from short lapses which can pretty much be chalked up to poor planning). We are able to purchase both fresh and canned vegetables of all kinds year-around and we have meat at virtually every meal even if it comes heavily disguised in casseroles or other less-than-obvious forms.

We may not have all the latest in home decor or be on trend in all fashion outlets but we aren’t (usually) sporting threadbare garments from previous generations or treading over matted shag carpets and cracked brown lino either. In fact, the dirt floors that are common in millions of houses across the world are completely foreign to us; instead, walking on dirt (perhaps more specifically: rice, cheese or autumn leaves) is considered disgraceful and has caused many a tired parent emotional trauma and found them wielding a broom with ungrateful force when “they” should be focusing on what this all signifies (enough food to eat, people to share it with, a home to care for, strong healthy bodies…).

Yes, we certainly are blessed far beyond our merits… So it’s sad but true that we still make occasion to bemoan our blessed lives that fall just short of perfect. We say our toy storage is insufficient, our grocery budget too tight, or our shoes too last-year. The fact is that sure, our kitchen cabinets don’t pass stringent style or efficiency tests but they do a marvelous job of holding all the dishes we need and even some dust bunnies. Our home may not be 3500 square feet but it’s taught me that 3500 square feet is just plain too big (for us)… among many other things.

You may tire of hearing about the details of my children’s lives in Christmas letter after Christmas letter but I am so grateful to have those details to share. I may not have dreamed much of being a mother but I’m finding out more every day that when God gives you something, He gives you the very ultimate. There are no dollar-store or discounted gifts from Him! Each one is the most special, the greatest value, the most beautiful and unique.

And that’s how I feel about my chilluns which I imagine is how you feel about yours if you have some… So my children aren’t always well behaved, they don’t speak when spoken to but they will speak without being spoken to, if you know what I mean. They will fight in the most atrocious manner and inflict bodily wounds. They will also drive me to distraction and cause me to see all of my faults march before me in graphic detail. And they are the sweetest, most forgiving persons I have ever met. I feel at times that having me for a mother, they are pretty much guaranteed success in life because they’ve seen it all and nothing will faze them!

They are also talented artists and musicians and love to sing Oh Canada, Away in a Manger or whatever the song of the day is. I am the main subject in many of my son’s musical tributes, an honor I have not experienced before.

My daughter, at 4 years of age, is known to do laundry for me, praise my cooking, and offer to tuck me into bed when I’m tired. My two-year-old son voluntarily clears the table and thanks me for meals. Reading between the lines, I think it’s clear here that they have a pretty amazing dad but it’s true too that we have some pretty amazing children! 🙂

As a person reflects on world averages, it’s difficult to comprehend just how fortunate we are compared to so many millions. While I don’t always keep this in mind, it’s good for me to remember it, especially on the hectic days when the whole idea of modern American Christmas expectations seems overwhelming.

Many people, even some who share my home town, have no real idea of the significance of Christmas and the true reason for the season. Imagine hanging Christmas lights, fighting Christmas rush crowds in search of last minute gifts, or cooking Christmas turkeys with no clear vision of why the date is meaningful aside from your own traditions or personal enjoyment.

To me it is immensely comforting to know that none of the traditions or effort I put forth to have perfectly-styled-anything are what truly make Christmas. If I can help teach my child of the incredible joy and wonder of being a child of God, then little else matters. If they feel accepted and loved and we pass that on to others, that kind of Christmas decor will outshine all our feeble attempts: the lanterns hanging askew, the gingerbread men with missing arms, the too-thin mashed potatoes and the gift with bashed-in corners.

So… we’re trying to focus on the important stuff this year! 🙂

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