The Christmas Letter



200 West 97th Street ny 10025

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Dear Reader,

With all that technology can do to separate the giver from the gift, I should not be surprised that I received the ultimate Christmas gesture—a call from a cell phone with no discernible person on the other end. Must be one of the magical moments of the season, I thought. But what did it mean?

I had just listened to a commentator on WNYC, sharing her personal Christmas tradition. In perky tones, she described her traditional brunch involving the traditional Zabar’s purchases and the making of the scones.

She actually has the scones and the lox cohabiting on the kitchen table. Like any true New Yorker would be a party to that! And, she continued, the best part of this tradition, a breathy pause here, is that the guests are all gone by 4 and she can get into her pajamas and watch a movie or whatever she does that does not involve her guests, you know, the guests for whom she traditionally knocks herself out every year to involve them in her “tradition.”

She, breathy pause here, seriously annoyed me. And even though she didn’t come right out and say so, I knew she was the type to commit the worst Christmas crime of all, the writing of the Christmas letter. You know the type; detailing the events, the scones and lox so to speak, of the year just passed, sent to anyone and everyone in her address book. I can see her writing it in a haze of self-congratulation. All declarative sentences. No questions and no answers required.

I am late to the letter phenomenon. I am sixty-three years old and I have only received three Christmas letters in my life. One was addressed to Dear Friend with “Friend” crossed out and my name written in over the line.

I still haven’t gotten past that.

And it was from a woman friend I really liked, too. The rest of it was full of one thing after another that was simply not true, you know, platitudes of the season. And such a warm closing above her handwritten signature!

Another was from the family of a former student in my third grade class. We had never really stayed in touch and I was surprised to get the letter last year. I responded with some enthusiasm, saying how nice it was to hear how well the kids were doing and added a few small things about what I’d been doing. Nothing from them until this Christmas. Same letter basically. The boys look a bit taller. Purely on the strength of my remembered fondness for the kids, I sent a card in return—the last one, no doubt.

What non-action must it take to get off someone’s Christmas letter list, I wonder. The third letter came from someone I speak to and see fairly frequently. I was already aware of her comings and goings. I was her friend, for goddsake! An active, participating, present friend.

I was confused. Did she go to England before or after she told me she was going? Is she having new trouble with her hip? She later explained that her well-meaning nephew insisted it was more efficient for her to write these letters, rather than the old-fashioned personal kind she was used to writing for most of her seventy-plus years. Which brings me to the season in question and the call.

When my phone rang at 1:00 AM on Christmas morning, I got up to answer it. “Hello?” I said. No answer, just some vaguely familiar voices, at a party maybe. I waited. “Hello?” I repeated. More of the same. After the third “Hello?” I hung up. Now fully awake and even more curious, I dialed *69 and was given a 917 number.

Since most people I know don’t use cell phones, it was easy to find in my phonebook. It belonged to Richard, an endearing horse’s ass with whom I wanted to keep in touch and who stopped returning my calls. I did get forwarded e-jokes from time to time and I admit that I made that count for more than it actually did. Much like a Christmas letter, coming to think of it.

Now, here’s what I think happened. Somewhere, an ambient Christmas spirit channeled through Louis Armstrong, a Jack Russell terrier belonging to a mutual friend, jarred the memory of his cell phone causing it to contact me. (I evidently still existed in his directory even as I lingered on his mass e-mail list.) In support of this, I did hear some low barks in the background. And I like this idea…so, okay. Happy Holidays, Richard.

Thanks for thinking of me, Louis. I owe you a chew toy.

As for me and my Christmas tradition, I will be traditionally annoyed by all the insincerity and silliness that surfaces like the “re-gifts” at the return counters and I will be traditionally on the lookout for the occasional miracle, too.

This year? I will celebrate the return of a hawk’s nest on Fifth Avenue and the recounting of votes in Ohio.

Happy New Year!

(Signed) Linda Umans

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