After my mother’s sudden death, the following Christmas I found myself, for the first time, penning a Christmas letter to insert with Christmas cards to family and friends. We are a large family with a wide circle of friends and because so many constantly inquired about my father, who was 92 at the time, I felt a Christmas letter might be a most expeditious way of conveying news of him and our family.
Yet writing a letter of this sort was one of the last things I envisioned myself doing. In the avalanche of Christmas cards my parents annually received, I chortled over badly written letters, those that droned on endlessly about trivia, and those that bragged shamelessly about their so-called brilliant offspring. Mostly I howled over the wretched writing. Far be it from me to set myself up for such critiques, I thought, as a young teen. One can afford to be cavalier when one is still a young student who knows little of how the world really works, let alone what drives people to crank out the annual Christmas letter.
Thus, with a full heart at the prospect of the first Christmas without Mama to brighten the landscape of our sorrow, I managed to concoct a one-page letter full of news of my father and of my daughter. Of myself, I felt I would only bring down the house with tears were I to reveal the extent of my sadness. Therefore, in lieu of news of me, I inserted updates on our cats, Sparkle [now deceased] and Fellini [then a kitten]. At least I could mask my true feelings while doting on those about whom I happily had full care.
The twist was that after I had edited, re-edited, and edited my letter again, I began to fill better. My daughter and I plunged into making Mama’s soft, moist fudge. We experimented with pizzelles, using the pizzelle griddle Mama had bequeathed me. We tried to emulate her classic Christmas cut out sugar cookie recipe, but she had written over it and crossed-out ingredients, tweaking it as she made the cookies year after year. Finally, we turned to Aunt Adelaide’s Pillsbury sugar cookie recipe instead. They were tasty, but missing Mama’s lightness of half-butter, half-shortening.
Within me, Christmas joy was gradually unleashed. I took delight in baking with my daughter, in making pasta e fagiole for my father, and listening to Christmas carols. Now, for the past ten years, I too craft a Christmas letter. Perhaps those reading it smirk and guffaw, but I suspect they press on to the end of the page as I used to do as a young sprig. No matter the reason why, concocting the Christmas letter brings a smile to my face and keeps Christmas in my heart.
Ciao for now.