The Holiday Tradition I Dread the Most: Mom's Annual Christmas Letter

Photo credit: Courtesy of Carie Sherman
Photo credit: Courtesy of Carie Sherman

From Good Housekeeping

For the past 40-some years, my mother has entertained the masses with her matter-of-fact and sometimes bizarre account of our family's past year.

Mom was born into a generation that believed Christmas cards were mandatory. She was also wrangling three little kids, a working farm, and every stray cat and dog that wandered into the county.

Writing in each and every card was a hassle. So she did the unthinkable: She started writing a form letter.

For the last few years, I've been given the honor of reviewing Mom's letter. As the eldest child, I take my role seriously, knowing I stand between my family and mass humiliation.

Mom's letter is a literal account of the happenings of the year: trips taken, jobs worked, friends visited. But she tends to include details most people leave out - like the year she proclaimed her disgust with the arrested development of her grown children, declaring her heartache over being a grandmother only to dogs. Or the year she shared a tidbit about my little sister's "special" friend from college, which happened to be a mouse that lived in her garbage bin.

Because of these missteps, Mom trusts me to spot potential issues. I correct the odd spacing throughout her Google doc and un-bold the default font she's used throughout the document. I leave the one line she's written in Comic Sans, because why would one line be a different font, if not a deliberate choice?

Like any good Midwesterner, Mom begins many of her sentences with verbs.

The editor in me desperately wants to change how she's worded certain things. Alas, I resist. Mom's got something many writers struggle to find: voice. She writes exactly how she talks. Like any good Midwesterner, Mom begins many of her sentences with verbs:

Built a shed for N out back. Turned out real nice.

Planted too much garden this year. What's new?

She's hilarious without intending to be funny. Like the year Man Caves were all the rage, and she wrote about Dad building himself a "man's nest."

Photo credit: Courtesy of Carie Sherman
Photo credit: Courtesy of Carie Sherman

Her letter consistently serves as fuel in my family's favorite game of debating Who Mom Loves Best. Dad's convinced it's not him, since she rarely writes more than a line or two about his antics. My siblings and I will invariably count the sentences she's crafted in honor of each of us. Usually after a few beers, choice words are exchanged. Meanwhile, our spouses sit, mortified by our immaturity.

It's a wonder Mom writes this letter at all.

The letter's contents have changed in recent years, thanks to the gift she'd been waiting for her entire life: a brand new grandbaby. Mom now devotes at least 75% of her letter to talking about this little girl. This is fine by me. She's my daughter. So I get to declare myself the favored child and winner in the sibling rivalry ring.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've only recently started to see the true value of Mom's letter. For 40-some years, Mom has documented our stories, our inside jokes, our traumas, and our thrills. She's literally written the story of our lives. And what does she get in return? Endless torment from her three rotten children.

I can't imagine we'll ever stop making fun of Mom.

But we will always know: Without her, there would be no family story to tell.

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