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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Christmas letter yields unfamiliar uncles, fried cheese and a tax bill

One of the unfortunate byproducts of the computer age has been the blossoming of the “Christmas letter.”

You know what I mean. It used to be they would start showing up in early December in fat envelopes or jammed inside Christmas cards.

They were not “Christmas letters” in the sense that they had anything to do with Christmas or any holiday. They weren’t even particularly personal. You could pretty much figure out you were getting the same letter as everyone else on the list when the letter started off, “Dear Friends and Family.”


Now, with everyone sitting in front of some kind of computer screen for hours every day, the writers of those letters have it made.

They don’t actually have to “write” anything. I’m not sure they even teach writing in school anymore. You just have to know how to push buttons on a keyboard. Churning out Christmas letters is a piece of cake. Not only that, just push a button when you are through and you can send your letter to not only the people on your list, but hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

I actually don’t mind getting these things, chronicling a family’s year, although I would like to know who the cousins and aunts and uncles are the writer is talking about. I have a hard enough time keeping track of our greater family, much less someone else’s.

But the letter writers don’t care. They start off in high gear talking about Uncle Harry’s big wedding last summer up at Pedro’s South of the Border where the bridesmaids wore chiffon dresses shaped like tacos and the men were in sombreros.

Now, with the computer, you can even include a set of pictures of the wedding even if nobody who gets a copy has ever heard of Uncle Harry.


The Frau’s family loves Christmas letters. There is even one member who uses them to send out the annual tax bill for the property the family owns in New York.

One Christmas letter sender has a format with an entire year’s calendar on it. He goes through each month with its highlights: “Friday, Feb. 8, we had our first fried cheese at the state fair. Never again.”

You see, while I am interested in food dishes, I don’t really want to read about someone else eating fried cheese at the fair, especially if he didn’t like it. They probably should have stayed away from the midway for a couple of hours.

Most of the letters are sincere enough, although they end up describing some pretty dreary lives.

We do get one from some friends up North. Their lives are pretty much like the rest of ours, they have a couple of brilliant kids who are out saving the world in exotic countries we have never heard of.

That means we need to fire off our own Christmas letter and describe the achievements of our family, even if we have to upgrade the tales just a tad.

The truth is, one son has not exactly invented the new Google, but he can play a video game for hours without blinking once.

Now that I think about it, I’ve got to get to work on that letter right after I finish this.

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