TUPPER: Faith, hope, joy ... and imperfection
Christmas cards and letters make liars of us all.
I’m as guilty as anybody. In fact, since my wife and I assemble a Christmas “newspaper” page that combines the written message of a letter with the images of a card, we’re probably bigger liars than most.
What is it about this warm and fuzzy holiday tradition that could be so dishonest, you ask?
It’s simple. In Christmas cards and letters, we project only the image of ourselves that we want others to see. We filter out all the unflattering stuff, and we choose only the photos and only the words and phrases that make us look and sound like we think we ought to look and sound.
In other words, we present a dishonest version of ourselves and our lives. Or, if not dishonest, at least inauthentic.
Think about the letters and cards you’ve received this season. At our house, we post them all in our kitchen. As I scan the cards, I see people looking resplendent in their best attire. I see hair perfectly coiffed. I see smiles on every face. I see words bursting forth in big lettering, like “JOY,” “LOVE,” “HOPE” and “PEACE.”
It’s as if we’re all trying just a bit too hard. “Look!” we seem to be saying. “Look at us! We’re happy! We’re well-to-do! No problems here! We are a perfect family!”
Reality, we all know, isn’t quite so polished. The law of averages tells us that among all those happy and smiling faces there might be illness, addiction, financial turmoil and other struggles.
But we don’t want the outside world to know that. We put on a mask every year, and we present our best selves so nobody will know the whole truth. For a short time, we may even fool ourselves into thinking our problems have vanished.
And those are just the cards. Christmas letters are much the same. In many of them, people seem to spend all of their time traveling to exotic places, climbing to new heights of achievement, and marveling at their wonderful children and grandchildren.
If our cards and letters were totally honest, they might depict loneliness and despair. They might show and tell of people struggling to pay their bills. They might include children testing the limits of their parents’ mental well-being. They might delve into even darker matters.
And they might include joy, love and happiness. Those are also parts of our lives.
But they’re not the only parts. So why do we make it appear that way every Christmas?
Partly, it’s the positive spirit of the season, and the idea that Christmas causes us to think more about blessings and be nicer to each other and ourselves. It’s also partly because brutal honesty doesn’t work very well in a Christmas card or letter. I get that.
But I think it’s also because we’re afraid to let the world see us as we are. We live in a society in which two or three well-behaved kids, a picket fence, shiny cars, a big house and a perfect marriage are the ideal. Yet so many of us fall short on so many of those fronts, and we spend too much of our lives feeling badly about it.
I think we’d all do well to insert at least a little more honesty and authenticity in our Christmas greetings. We should show or tell the world about a time during the year when there was struggle or loss or sadness. That would expose us as less than the perfect ideal we strive for, and that’s why it would be scary, but it might also invite people into our lives with expressions of love, sympathy and support.
In our Christmas “newspaper” page this year, I wrote briefly of a struggle with one of our children, and I included some photos in which the subjects were not finely dressed or strategically posed. It wasn’t much, but it did peel back our masks a bit and offered at least a glimpse into our true humanity. I still had plenty of room to depict our many joys.
If you’d like to join me in bringing a little more genuine flavor to this world, perhaps you’ll reconsider your annual Christmas greeting. Instead of sending a card or letter that presents a once-a-year facade of perfection and trumpets only hollow and overused words like “Joy” or “Love” or “Peace,” how about the word “Imperfect” above a photo of people just being themselves?
That would be a wonderfully honest gift for both the giver and receiver.