I am curled up on the sofa by the fire, reading what has to be the world's longest Christmas letter.
It came in a "Seasons Greetings" card sent by out-of-town friends we haven't seen in more than a decade. The letter is printed on multiple pages of festive-looking stationery, in text designed to look like someone's perfect penmanship. It is nothing less than a tome.
In the seven minutes I've been straining to read the 10-point type, I have learned the intimate details of a family's life - their career moves and health issues, major household and automotive purchases, even updates on their children's love lives. I know their take on the November election and their contempt for the Black Spot on their roses. I'm painfully aware of their elderly dog's incontinence problem and the heartbreak of psoriasis (human, not canine.)
And I'm only halfway finished!
As I come to the paragraph describing how the early summer heat choked their zoysia grass, I postulate a theory: There are two kinds of Christmas letters.
First, is the boiled-down-to-a-page missive that hits the highlights of the year and brings the reader up-to-date efficiently, with a short but sweet sentiment at the end. It's the year-at-a-glance approach and the one I prefer.
The second type, like this one, falls solidly under the heading of TMI (Too Much Information,) those epic epistles that tell readers not only what happened but where, when, how, why and, sometimes - ack! - how much it cost.
Some TMI letters are month-by-month accounts written, no doubt, by former yearbook editors:
"In January, our second cousins, Ned and Diane - you remember, the cloggers from Duluth - came to visit. We spent three wonderful days embroiled in a wicked Monopoly tournament. Darned, if that Ned didn't snatch up Park Place and Boardwalk every time! February brought snow and Don's hemorrhoidectomy, followed closely by my bout with sciatica. Boy, were we a pair. Neither one of us could sit for a week!"
(I have to admit, I envy their long-term memory.)
Other TMI letters just make you feel bad about yourself:
"Geoff made partner at the firm and, thanks to my promotion at the bank, we finally bought our dream vacation home in Maui! Bradley placed 1st in the country club championship, which made his girlfriend, Bethany, this year's head cheerleader and homecoming queen, jump for joy! They are so cute together! It's no wonder the kids call them Barbie and Ken."
As I turn to page three, which enthusiastically describes a bumper zucchini crop in September, I formulate another hypothesis: Most, if not all, Christmas letters are composed by women.
Now, FAR be it from me to pigeonhole my own sex but, let's face it, sharing - especially oversharing - is undeniably a woman's domain. Most of us get our fill throughout the year from e-mails, phone calls and coffee talk. But some of us, obviously, feel compelled to say more. MUCH more.
Finally, I get to the last page and the two paragraphs detailing plans to re-landscape their backyard. My husband comes into the room to stoke the fire.
"Geez!" I say. "This Christmas letter goes on and on for days! What makes them think we'd be interested in the minutia of their daily lives? How presumptuous. I would NEVER send a letter like this."
"You don't have to," he replies. "You have your column."
It's like he just beaned me with a stale fruitcake.
"What do you mean?" I ask indignantly.
"Think about it," he answers. "So far, you've told the world the gory details of your colonoscopy and your echocardiogram, our domestic arguments, your menopausal hot flashes AND your obsession over the size of your rear end. What else is left to put in a letter?"
Oh my gosh, I think to myself, he's right! My column IS the world's longest Christmas letter! It goes on and on every week! I'm the worst oversharer of all!
The truth hurts, even on Christmas Eve.
And so, dear readers, in light of this revelation and in the spirit of the season, I send you all my love and best wishes for a joyous holiday : and my deepest, most sincere apologies.