Here's my December column for my hometown newspaper, the @HollandSentinel...
Dear family and friends,
I’ve been writing Christmas letters every year for nearly 40 years, as some of you know, because you’ve been on the receiving end of them. Some of you look forward to reading these letters, and I know that, because you’ve told me, using just those words.
It’s always possible of course that you were lying when you said so, but I choose to believe that my letters have brought a little cheer over the years, plus a bit of connection. I’ve moved a lot, so the letters have been one way for me to stay in touch. And with all the moves, my mailing list has gotten pretty long, with friends in at least six states and a few European countries.
I’ve done my best not to write letters full of bragging about my children or the fabulous vacations we’ve taken. My children are wonderful, and it’s enough that I know that. As for our vacations, it’s possible that you have a different definition of fabulous, so I’ve tried not to bore you with what we’ve seen and done which, I’m happy to say, is a lot.
My wife says that my letters were funnier years ago and that they’ve lost some of the old appeal, but she stopped laughing at my jokes years ago, about the same time she stopped telling me how strong I was whenever I loosened the lid on a glass jar. In a relationship that has lasted as long as ours, these things will happen. I try not to let them bother me.
A couple of times in the last few years, I’ve given some thought to ending the practice, but each year when December rolls around I think of you and how we came to know each other and how much you meant to me (and still do!) that I just want to say hi and please don’t forget me. I count on memories more and more these days, and my memory of us means more than I can say.
If we’re already friends on Facebook, then you know as much about my life as anyone needs to know. These letters aren’t useful in the old way anymore. Before the era of social media, I would have to catch you up on important details, such as the death of our dog, maybe, or how I did in the Chicago Marathon that year. But these days I post most of that information within minutes. And then Facebook and the other big tech companies sell my information, and in the following days and weeks I am bombarded with digital ads about dog ownership and running shoes. When I used to let you in on my important news, you never tried to sell me anything, which is one reason I still want to be your friend.
This year was not one of those years I thought about ending this annual exercise. I have more to say this year than most years—and not because I went anywhere or did anything. Just the opposite. I did little that I could brag about, unless taking in my younger daughter, her husband, their two-year-old son and dog for nine weeks during quarantine is something to brag about, and I’m inclined to think it is. The five of us, plus the dog, got to know each other pretty well and made life a great deal easier during what was for most people an extraordinarily difficult time. I’m glad we did it. It will go down as one of our most important family memories—something we’ll always mention, with some wonder that we were able to do it—and yet we don’t have a single photo to memorialize it. It happened, and we can visualize it any time we want.
I usually end my letters with something spiritual because I was brought up to think in spiritual terms. I have to say that I’m sick of streaming church, though the pastors I know should be congratulated for their hard work under terrible circumstances. I’m also not very happy with my fellow Christians right now because of their political allegiances, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. It’s possible you’re not very happy with me about my own political allegiances. That’s fair, though I still don’t agree with you.
What I want to say more than anything, in spiritual terms, is how much I needed the season of Advent this year. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted God to do something in the world more than I’ve wanted it this year. There’s more longing in my heart right now than in the heart of any five-year-old. O come, O come, Emmanuel.