Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Christmas Letter Mask

The Perfect Family (Cast from "Leave it to Beaver")
When I was growing up, my father was a minister in the United Church of Christ. Each Christmas brought 100's of Christmas cards and letters from not only current parishioners, but from many in the half dozen congregations he served in his career.  It was always humbling to read through the happy accomplishment of the "Smith" family and try to imagine how they had somehow escaped the mundane and sometimes challenging life that was our own.

When I was going through my parents' Christmas ornaments, I found copies of probably a dozen Christmas letters my parents had composed and sent to those same 100's of friends, recounting the events and accomplishments of our family during the previous year.  Which gave me pause......I know there were many, well, maybe not many, but a number of years when I am sure it was a challenge to find shining examples of things that each of us children had done.  And yet, reading through them, we sounded pretty okay.

I've written Christmas letters myself, not so much recently, but in the past.  And I know that I have picked words carefully, shared the highlights and worn that mask of the perfect family.

The Pretty Okay Family (The Wolves, circa 1965)
So, in thinking about masks, I'm reconsidering what this Christmas Letter Mask is all about.  I used to think that the letters were simply the collective brags and boasts of the year when I read the "Smiths" letters.  But from my personal perspective, my letters, and I suspect my parents', were wearing a mask of privacy, to protect themselves, to protect those they loved.  The things that were intimate and sometimes painful, that were too personal to share, were just left out leaving a pretty skewed vision of our lives. It's interesting how the mask looks so different from the other side!

This challenge has been one of the most difficult for me to talk about.  I initially was completely blank on what to do.  What masks do I wear, what masks have I worn?  Who sees the mask?  Is it me, or someone else?  Do I put masks on other people.....ooh, that's a good others put masks on me?  So many ways to go.....and like Diane's comment, which are appropriate to disclose here on a blog rather than on a therapist's couch?


  1. Great approach, Martha! I can definitely relate to that tendency to share only the good news and "edit" out the bad.
    Even though I wrote the challenge, it has been an uncomfortable process for me as well. There's no way to acknowledge our masks without taking them off - and that is scary.

  2. Yes, I too relate to your timely post Martha. Breaking with tradition, we will not be composing a Christmas letter this year,not that there aren't many good things to tell, it's just that we have too many pressures without another added on.