How to write a Christmas card — or not


There has to be something in between the kind of Christmas card that is merely signed "Happy Holidays, Carol and Frank and The Whole Funk Family," and the five-page Christmas monograph from Jane and Bob, who express so many detailed success and so much pride in their family accomplishments that you want to stab yourself with the fake Christmas icicle ornaments. It must all be in the editing.

Or maybe there’s just too much pressure to write a Christmas letter that’s truly worth reading as it chattily sums up a year. I’ll spare you my own monthly blow-by-blow, but here’s what happened during some recent Christmases.

Two years ago on December 25, we rose to a cold, quiet winter morning with the pink sunrise light hitting Utah’s Wellsville Mountains. There was a fluffy feral cat doing its best bird imitation in an ancient heirloom apple tree in our back yard.

The birds were avoiding the cat and gathering around the chimney of the neighbor's house to catch a little steamy warmth. Later in the day, I was jogging along the snowy canal path while the leg of lamb was roasting. Along the way I saw a young deer do a perfect Bambi split on the ice lining the bottom of the canal. That was a Norman Rockwell day.

It all happened, but who would want to read about it?

Last year, just outside Tucson, we stopped to buy some charcoal at the only convenience store open because that's what you do on a Christmas day when you are from somewhere as cold as northern Utah and it’s warm enough in Arizona to barbecue outside. On the way out, I held the door for a young man carrying two of those suitcase-sized packages of beer because that is what you do on Christmas day when you are from a polite place like northern Utah.

He seemed in a hurry to get in his car and get his beverages home to fellow celebrants. As he spun out of the parking lot, the clerk yelled "Well, there goes another beer run!" The person I had just helped out the door hadn’t paid.

Barbecuing among the cacti and aiding and abetting a robbery — now, that was a Jackson Pollock Christmas. Would anyone care to read about that?

There was also a Christmas in Death Valley, the Christmas I re-tiled the bathroom, one where I slept in my camper in a Las Vegas parking lot, and more than a few I spent inside a Catholic Church. This year is looking a little vanilla.

Still, 2004 hasn’t been all dull. I recall the fight my father and I got in over how poorly I sharpen kitchen knives and how we all discovered that the new dog really loves the taste of its own feces. I was paranoid a lot about the people I work with, I got more rejection letters from publishers, and I'm really starting to regret all that sunbathing I did as a teen.

Somewhere this year I realized I probably should have invested in Microsoft, AOL and Wal-Mart instead of all those green businesses that took a dive. I really screwed up that door installation project, I probably paid too much for that truck I bought, I ate too much, drank too much and I didn't exercise nearly enough. I also had impure thoughts about a whole bunch of people. My mother called to tell me about her colonoscopy, and I’m sure I wasn't nice enough in generaI to anyone. I didn't give enough money to National Public Radio or the United Way, and I probably took too big a tax deduction for that stuff I gave to the thrift store sponsored by the Mormon Church. I didn't learn enough new software programs, and I never got around to taking those blues guitar lessons I promised myself I would.

Coveting? Yep, I was all over that one too. The only thing that saved me was that there are only Ten Commandments. This all happened; it’s the unedited truth. Peace, joy and honesty to you and all your loved and even not-so-loved ones. ‘Tis the season.

Dennis Hinkamp is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He writes in Logan, Utah, where he’s an extension communications specialist for Utah State University.

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