Still picking meat from the bones of the Thanksgiving turkey and nursing the wounds we received while shopping on Black Friday, many of us may have started thinking about writing our "traditional" Christmas letter -- those dense little tales filled with all sorts of family accomplishments and perfect vacation vignettes.
However, before we write, perhaps we should embrace the spirit of my disaster-prone friend whose letters are the highlight of my holiday season. Rather than the insufferable bragging that usually fills those missives, my friend fills hers with 12 months of hysterical (to others, but maybe not her hapless husband) calamities, as well as the customary bragging.
One year she wrote about her stolen cars, and her husband and son mistakenly arrested for stealing the cars. Another year she wrote about her version of a scene from "The Godfather," involving the mauling of a rodent and her blood-splattered terrier. And still another year, she wrote about how she exploded her car when she steered it into a flooded intersection.
I can't wait to receive this year's Christmas letter, since she already has given me a sneak preview. After receiving her e-mail, I have a feeling her calamities are increasing in intensity and hilarity as this fellow boomer gets older and maybe, like the rest of us, more distracted.
She reported that her husband, Tony, a lawyer, loving husband and father, had "suffered" a few health problems.
"First, he did something to his back and has been in incredible pain for about three weeks now," she wrote. "It has been so bad I've had to get him a special cane and drive him to the Bay Area so he could catch a flight back to Illinois for a week on a case. Then I picked him up from the airport ... and we spent three days in Carmel recouping.
"He pretty much just laid around and took pain pills, which didn't seem to help at all. Anyway by the third evening, he said he thought he could sit through a movie. I yelled 'yeah' and got him ready to drive to the movies.
"As he gently walked to the garage and gently began to back into the passenger seat of my big BMW, I noticed I'd left all the windows down in the car, and it was freezing out. So being the thoughtful wife, my first instinct was to get those windows rolled up so he would be comfortable. I cut the middle finger of his left hand almost completely off in the car window.
"We both thought we were in a horror movie as blood was running down the car window and he was screaming at me."
Panic-stricken, my friend raced her husband to a nearby hospital emergency room. By the time they arrived, he wasn't speaking to her, leaving her to wonder if he had gone into shock or if he was just really angry.
At the ER entrance, she found a cluster of wheelchairs and wrestled him into one. In her frenzy to get Tony help, she forgot to release the chair's brake. One big push catapulted the poor slob into the air.
Abandoning the wheelchair, she walked Tony and his blood-spurting hand into the ER. "They got him on morphine, me on Lorazepam and got a plastic surgeon in to sew the finger back on. ... Now he's on super duper pain pills and, guess what, the finger's so [expletive] painful, the back seems better."
That happened on a Sunday evening. Despite his middle finger wrapped in an apparent profane exclamation, the following Tuesday he managed to keep 10 court appearances with a lot of help.
As for my friend, "I've been cooking a lot of home-cooked meals and keeping the house really, really clean. We're still not quite able to laugh about it all, yet."
But the trauma my friend inflicted on her husband made his back worse. An MRI revealed a slipped disc resting on a nerve. Tony was scheduled for back surgery.
While this story was funny enough, I waited a couple of weeks after the surgery to check up on Tony. I could only imagine what my friend could do to a truly helpless husband.
"I'm really trying hard not to cut anything else off," she said, reporting that Tony was on the mend and back to work. "But he's now really afraid of windows."
I'll have to wait for her Christmas letter to find out the rest of Tony's story, as well as her other 2009 disasters. But I'm betting hers will again be the most memorable Christmas letter that arrives at my house this season.
This article written by DIANNE HARDISTY appeared in the Nov. 29, 2009 Bakersfield Californian.
Are you ready to begin writing your family's annual Christmas letter but don't know how to start? There are a lot of websites with writing tips and templates for publication. Do a Google search for "writing Christmas letters."
Some of the sites you will find include www.squidoo.com, www.howtodothings.com and www.ehow.com.
A compilation from these sites and comments from online contributors yields the following suggestions to consider before you begin writing:
Start with a festive greeting. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, whatever. It's a good place to start. If you have an odd sense of humor, you may wish not to show it in this beginning line. Keep it nice.
Be yourself. Write like you speak. Maybe include quotes from family members to make your letter sound conversational. Of course, if you speak roughly, or the quotes from your family should, uhhh, stay in the family, you may wish to clean that up. Again, keep it nice.
Make a list of the highlights of the family's year. Include vacations, home renovations, births, weddings and other happy news. You might want to keep the list short. Believe it or not, no one really cares to know about everything that happened to you or your family this year.
Ask each family member for a list of five things they would like to share about themselves in the Christmas letter. Yes, it's not all about you. Be inclusive. Who knows, maybe the husband, wife and kids might have a different perspective on what happened this year.
Don't brag. It's OK to write about something good happening. But keep it low-key; don't present your life, or your family's life, as perfect. One Web page contributor wrote that her family was so fed up with bragging Christmas letters that they held a reading at the end of the season and voted on the most obnoxious letter. She and her family then burned the "winner."
Be creative. Some folks use puzzles, or multiple-choice questions as formats for letters. Others write in the "voices" of their non-speaking babies, or dogs. Of course, being too "cute" can be a turn-off.
Be colorful. Include photos or other artwork to dress up your letter. Remember, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
Have fun. Try to entertain, as well as inform. Include funny or bizarre stories if you have them.
If your year has been lousy, tone it down. It's appropriate to make reference to problems, but try to find some good things that have happened to you. One Web page contributor wrote that he spit his coffee across the room when he read his mother's Christmas letter. She wrote about his lousy love life and the fact that he had lost his job. Months later, when the mother and son resumed speaking, she agreed to show him future letters before they are sent out. Christmas letters should not be "tell all" memoirs.
It's not "all about you." Add some personal warm wishes for the recipients of your letter.
At the end, add a personal note and personal signature.
For what you really should not do, check out the book "Christmas Letters from Hell: All the News We Hate from the People We Love."