The holidays are here, and you can see the magic in the Christmas lights, the family reunions and the excitement on a child’s face. You can also feel the magic with a simple act of goodwill, such as helping a stranger, making a charitable contribution or by turning off Madonna’s spirit-crushing rendition of “Santa Baby.”
But some of the best examples of holiday magic, I mean really wondrous stuff, arrives in our mailboxes. It’s the magic that turns a 30-year-old living with his parents into a misunderstood genius who is preparing to launch his own company and is – putting your thumb next to your index finger – this close to finding a cure for cancer.
That’s right, I’m talking about the holiday brag letter! If you guessed it by the time you read “misunderstood genius” above, then, like me, you probably get a few holiday brag letters. Or perhaps it’s that you’re almost as smart as my 10-year-old, who I’ll have you know is a genius – everyone says so! -- and is already being recruited by Harvard and enjoys studying quantum physics when he’s not working on his novel!
Sorry, just throwing out a few ideas for my own letter. It probably needs a few more exclamation points, because holiday brag letters are rife with those. And capital letters, too. Brag-letter writers LOVE those. REALLY!
Most of the letters my wife and I receive, including those from people who I barely remember or are apparently friends of my parents, are short and pleasant. They give a quick update on the family and then end with “Merry Christmas! or “Happy Holidays!”
They’re short, sweet and genuine. I enjoy reading those.
But we also get an assortment of letters loaded with gratuitous grandstanding. It’s amazing the year that these people have had. Every jealousy-inducing detail has a golden sheen spray painted over the graffiti of reality.
And I’ve got to admit it. I enjoy reading those letters most of all. I guess it’s because they can be so desperate to impress.
Sometimes there are details about exotic trips. Other times you get to find out that someone got a big raise. You might also get info about the family buying a boat, or a car, or maybe a billiards table, and the best ones can even throw in a little backstory braggadocio. You know, they weren’t sure if they should spend an extra thousand for the upgraded tournament-edition billiards table, but then decided, what the heck, because so-and-so got a big promotion at work and that means more money. A LOT!
Some letters brag less but share way too much. There might be a rant about an ungrateful daughter-in-law, a description of how a couple has been trying to get pregnant for nearly a year, or details about the size of a kidney stone, possibly with a photo. A few years ago, I received a letter that talked about how a woman’s commitment to fitness had her looking great. Her husband, who wrote the letter, mentioned how it was now hard to keep his hands off his “va-va-voom” wife. And Merry Christmas, everyone!
Of course, the true cornerstones of the holiday brag letter are the over-the-top descriptions of the kids:
Our daughter is so beautiful now, and people have started asking if she’s modeling! Our son is only 7, but he’s already mastered Tae Kwon Do and is such a good swimmer that we call him our LITTLE MICHAEL PHELPS!
I won’t even try to compete with that. My three sons this year have, uh … well, they’ve shown great ability at playing Angry Birds and drawing horns, glasses and fangs on my pictures in the newspaper.
I’m very proud of them, but they seem to be normal kids.
That means there’s no place for them in the holiday brag letter.