You can blame my mom for this blog. Every year, Mom wrote a Christmas letter that she would send to family and friends to update them on the status of the Baker family, especially her two delightful and charming sons, of course. When I got married, I carried on the Christmas-time letter-writing tradition to let people know about our exploits as a young, growing family. It occurred to me recently that the annual family dispatch was the precursor to this blog. The first few editions were little more than a litany of “Thens”, “In additions”, and “We alsos,” but slowly evolved into a (hopefully) witty, often with a theme, broadside reflecting on the year that was. I got rave reviews from family and friends, which satisfied my lust for praise. Starting a weekly-ish blog, while primarily designed as a vehicle to promote my books (which make great Christmas presents, by the way), was a natural extension of the annual holiday epistle. I do love to talk about myself and (hopefully) make people smile.
I just finished writing this year’s edition (excerpts of which appear at the end of this post), and, once we get the family photo printed, copies of the letter will be in the mail to the usual suspects. If you were to receive a copy, you would likely notice that I’ve dodged the “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays” debate by titling the letter “Bon Hiver.” I borrowed the phrase from an episode of the TV show Northern Exposure (1990-1995), in which the residents Cicely, Alaska greet each other by saying “Bon Hiver” – French for “Good Winter” – when the first snow of the season arrives. I made the assumption that this was a cultural tradition in French-speaking parts of the world, and, since I’m not averse to co-opting rituals that suit me, I decided to use it as the title of my annual holiday missive. However, I’ve not found any particular evidence of the Bon Hiver greeting existing outside of that fictional Alaskan town. It’s possible that it’s entirely an invention of the show’s writers. Despite the lack of bona fides, I still like the phrase. In particular, I like that it is not a religious expression. (Ooh, is Todd about to get controversial?) Let me explain:
1. The fact that “Bon Hiver” means “Good Winter” gives me a rationale for not being timely. I am prone to laziness, and getting the letter written and distributed prior to Christmas is often a challenge. By calling it a Good Winter letter, I, technically, have until March 20th to get it finished. Of course, if I were to wait that long, I would probably call it a St. Patrick’s Day letter.
2. December 25th happens to be my birthday. I make no claims of divinity, so my birthday is just like anyone else’s, other than the fact that most people don’t decorate a tree in their living room for their birthday. While I acknowledge December 25th is a big day for much of the Christian world, for me it has a personal, non-religious, significance. While I am not the “reason for the season,” December 25th is more than one thing to me.
3. According to the Internet – which I recognize is growing increasingly cluttered with post-factual information – there are 29 observances by seven world religions in December. I know Christmas has cornered a large part of the religious holiday market, but not everyone I send the Bon Hiver letter to is a Christian. My Rolodex includes a few jews, a couple muslims, an atheist or two, and several agnostics, including yours truly. I’ve studied Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, reading translations of many sacred texts as well as analyses and commentary on each. In my exceedingly humble opinion, there are a lot more similarities than differences, and I’m not comfortable enlisting with any one of them at the exclusion of another. It seems to me that religious affiliation has as much to do with where you were born than with any particular correctness of a given belief system. Regardless of where you were born, though, you experience winter, and that gives me some comfort: whatever you believe in, in the end, we’re all in this together.
Whether it’s snowy and cold or sunny and warm where you are, Bon Hiver, my friends.
Bon Hiver 2016 (excerpts from the letter)
Two years ago, I borrowed an idea from a friend’s Facebook post. I found an empty mason jar, taped a label that reads “Good Stuff” to it, and set it on a shelf in the kitchen along with slips of paper and a pen. I told the family to use the slips of paper to make note of the good things that happen throughout the year and place them in the jar. It was an attempt at homespun craftiness, which doesn’t come naturally to me. “Homespun” has always struck me as labor intensive, involving sewing machines and glue guns. In general, I’d rather watch Martha Stewart whip up some cute and clever notions on TV than attempt it myself. However, the “Good Stuff” jar served a practical purpose for me: providing fodder for this letter. I retrieved the jar from the shelf this morning in a desperate hope that I would find some evidence of goodness from the last twelve months. What I found were tickets stubs from movies, musicals, and spoken word performances…
…Along with saying goodbye to so many public figures that we loved – including Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Mohammed Ali, John Glenn, Democracy, and common decency – we also said goodbye to my daughter’s guinea pig Thistle Down, who passed away in March. While the whistling wee ball of fluff can never be replaced in our hearts, we have brought a new critter into our family: an Australian labradoodle named Autumn, who is filling our house with cuteness…
…I was dreading writing this letter, as 2016 has felt like a bummer of a year. My wife and I have discussed having a “Dumpster Fire New Year” party, in which we would, symbolically, burn away all the bad stuff that transpired. It probably won’t happen, as acquiring a dumpster and using it for a conflagration to purge bad feelings is likely to result in injuries and legal troubles. Upon reflection, there was a lot of good stuff for us in 2016, and I’m grateful for it, but it would be cool if Martha Stewart had a special New Year’s episode featuring her former cellmates gathered round the Yule dumpster outside her Bedford, New York, home, holding hands and singing, ironically, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” That would be some serious homespun Good Stuff.
Good luck in 2017.