The Thinker

Bah! Humbug!

I hope none of my relatives is reading this.

Well, okay, I do not mind if my immediate family is reading this. I make this assumption with every blog entry, even though I suspect only one or two of them bother to check out this blog on even a semi regular basis. I do not diss my siblings and father. I love them in all their uniqueness, brilliance and quirkiness. No, I mean I hope that all those other relatives out there are not reading this. You know, the ones who are tangentially family but you hardly ever go out of your way to meet. In other words, the kind to whom you feel obligated to send Christmas cards.

Our stack of sixty or so Christmas cards went out in today’s mail. In most of them was our obligatory Christmas newsletter. In years past, we attempted to write little notes in each of them. Those days are gone. The list has gotten too large. So to those friends from yesterday that we rarely visit along with the numerous aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and in laws out there, I don’t mean to be disrespectful but we really do not care about you or your life. However, we feel just enough attached to you through a blood, a legal relationship or a distant past association to send you our Christmas newsletter anyhow. It assuages the feeling of guilt that we have essentially abandoned you from our lives.

We do not write you. Moreover, you do not write us either. We both seem to like it that way. There was a time when email was new, we garnered your email address, and you got ours. We traded a couple emails. Then we both discovered that we really had nothing to say to each other. Maybe it was not quite that. We had things to say, we just could not be bothered to take the time to actually write them down to you personally. Since that time, you have disappeared from our email address list. We still have, however, your snail mail address. As long as we get a card from you, we feel obligated to send one back. We are strange that way.

This means that you will get our holiday newsletter. We will nest it inside our funny but by now expected and somewhat irreverent holiday card. (Of course, we think a card with a cartoon on the card of Santa’s butt crack on it is funny, and so should you.) If we are really organized, which we have not been for about a decade now, we will have had a family picture taken in November and enclose a recent snapshot too. Those days are gone. They are not going to happen again.

However, I do have this blog. Most likely in some previous newsletter along with putting our email address in it, I put the URL to my blog. Perhaps one or two of my relatives took the time to read it. Nevertheless, I bet they did not bookmark it. Leave me a comment if you did. Just as I really do not want to know the intimate little details of your life by reading your blog (which you probably do not have) you do not want to know mine. Not that Occam’s Razor is really a personal blog. It has delusions of grandeur. Regardless, I do not really matter to you so my blog does not matter to you. Unless you are a lot like me, it will not tickle your fancy.

There was a time when our expectations around Christmas were much higher. There were years when we sent presents to our many nieces and nephews. (My siblings were smart enough to know I would not bother to give them anything, since they do not send me anything.) Gradually the nieces and nephews grew old enough where we stopped buying them presents too. We had no idea what they needed and only got clues from pestering their parents. Thank goodness, that phase is behind us.

Yet certain holiday traditions remain sacrosanct. I do not know why we still feel this burden of sending out holiday cards. Our newsletters are dumbed down and happied up too, just like the ones we get. I do not want to hear about their prostate exams so I will not tell them about mine. They do not want to know how much we spend on therapists the last year either. So it is “distill a year into 400 words or less” and keep it rather generic and upbeat. This year was an exception. With an event like my mother’s death there was no way I could not mention it. Next year it will be back to all happy talk.

Of course, if we cared about our distant relations we would probably visit them. Most of them are in Arizona, which is where my wife’s side of the family is located. We were there in 2000 and only went out because my mother in law had come to visit us the year before. We felt guilty about not visiting more often. Since 2000, we have not received any guilt rays from Arizona, perhaps because our presence meant so little the last time. Therefore, we remain happily nested on the east coast, more than a little grateful there are 2500 miles between us.

They are fading away into increasingly distant memories. They are also aging. Little nieces and nephews that were at one time bouncing on our laps or playing with Transformers on the bedroom floors are graduating college. Aunts and in-laws are suffering from the affects of being sixty or seventy something. I find it hard to keep the cast of characters straight in my own mind. Just who is my brother in law married to now? Should I care?

In fact, I do not. These distant relations are consequences of marriage. They are important only in the sense that my wife feels some love or obligation to them. My relationships with them have been largely superficial. If I heard tomorrow that they were run over by a bus, I would not even shed a tear.

Yet somehow, they warrant a holiday card. Others that I spend a whole lot more time with will probably get nothing. I will likely forget to send holiday greetings to the people I work with. My many numerous electronic friends might get an electronic card (very appropriate) if I remember. I probably will not send them any because there are many other holiday activities on my checklist. This year, like every year, they will fall into the second tier that I will not get around to accomplishing. I still have major holiday tasks like buying presents for my own family. Although the holiday lights now adorn parts of our exterior, other time consuming tasks like setting up and decorating the Christmas tree remain to be done. They come with deadlines and firm sanctions for missing them.

I tell myself when it comes to the holidays that I am something of a traditionalist. I do take some pleasure in these holiday traditions. However, I am also a bit put out by them. It is nice to have the house decorated, presents under the tree and freshly baking cookies in the oven. Yet it remains a lot of work. Perhaps I do them out of habit, or of guilt.

I can tell that once our daughter is an adult I will get the pressure from my wife to just skip Christmas altogether. For whatever reason, she does not associate Christmas with pleasurable feelings. Perhaps she has repressed childhood memories of her father saying hurtful things to her. On the other hand, perhaps she remembers many years of meager presents under the tree. For me, the holidays are beginning to feel like a record played one too many times. They are losing their luster.

Perhaps someday, I will celebrate the holidays the way that they are supposed to be celebrated in theory, but so rarely are. Perhaps I will spend them feeding the homeless, helping run a soup kitchen, or visiting old folks in nursing homes. Then perhaps like Charlie Brown I will feel the true spirit of the holidays again.

For now, the psychological pressure to conform to these de facto holiday traditions is too large. However because I care, but also for pragmatic tax reasons, I will make sure some of my favorite charities get sizeable donations before January 1st. It is easier than volunteering.


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