Hanukah: Moving Past Two-Mindedness
Fundamentalist Family, Secular Christmas

A Modest Proposal for Your Holiday Correspondence

Today's post is from law professor and humorist Jay Wexler, author of the forthcoming Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars. Wexler teaches at the Boston University School of Law. Read more of Jay Wexler's humor at holyhullabaloos.typepad.com.

Book cover for Holy Hullabaloos links to Beacon Press page for book With Christmas just a few days away and New Year's right around the corner, this is the time when each day my family's mailbox fills up with treasured holiday cards from family, friends, and creepy high school classmates we thankfully haven't seen in twenty years. We love the letters with their welcome updates—a vacation in Europe, a promotion to assistant sales manager, a tumor caught just in time! Our favorite part of these cards, however, has always been the picture. This is our chance to see what you all look like after the passage of another year. Has Father Time treated you well, or could you use some help from the plastic surgery clinic down the street? What kinds of shoes do you fancy, and are your knees still as lovely as I remember? Is your face still symmetrical, or has Father Bell's Palsy paid you a little visit?

Sadly, though, more and more the pictures we receive don't contain images of you at all. Instead, we get measly little photographs of your kids and maybe a pet chinchilla in a sweater with snowflakes on it. This would have shocked the Pilgrims, whose primitive stick-figure Christmas cards always depicted the entire family in their dour black frocks. In fact, it wasn't until the industrial revolution that children occasionally started appearing alone on holiday cards—though these images of dirty child laborers look a bit shocking to our delicate modern sensibilities.

Don't get me wrong: We love kids. We love looking at them, playing with them, dangling yarn around and watching them get all tangled up. What adorable little creatures! But it's you we know, you we once pulled all nighters with in college, you whose shoes we puked on during homecoming. We want to know what you look like after all these years, and even more than that, we'd love to discover what ugly dude you ended up marrying.

We've heard all the arguments for just displaying your kids. You say, for instance, that you're just giving the people what they want, or that children are "the reason for the season." What are you, frickin' Gandhi? Believe me, we know what you are loathe to admit: that this apparent act of generosity and selflessness merely disguises the rotten truth behind it. We know that by making the cutest member(s) of your family your mouthpiece, you are selfishly contributing to our culture's obsession with youth and beauty, flaming the fires of vanity in a new generation, and hiding behind false claims of generational sacrifice.

In fact, everyone knows the real reason you won't put yourself on your cards. You are scared. Scared that we will see your flaws, your receding hairlines, your bulging bellies, your sagging buttocks, your festering scabs, that owl which lives in your burgeoning tufts of chest hair. But please know that we are all in the same boat. We all age at the same rate. Your hairlines are our hairlines, your bellies are our bellies (almost). And, in any event, remember that each person is his or her own harshest critic. We don't care about your flaws; we probably won't even notice them, and if we do, we probably won't send mass emails about them or post them on our blog.

So, what can we do to make sure you start sharing pictures of yourselves with us? We could rely on the power of the arguments we've advanced or count on your good will, but who are we kidding? If you can't learn a lesson from the Pilgrims, you're sure not going to listen to us. No, this is a problem that calls for a legal solution. Our proposal is simple: Congress should amend the tax code to allow a deduction for the costs associated with the production and distribution of holiday cards, but only if those cards include a picture which shows every member of the family. Hey, if Congress can massage the tax code to encourage public goods like marriage, home ownership, and gambling losses, why not this?

We realize it's too late for Congress to act in time to save this holiday season. But with President-elect Obama ready to take the reins in January, next year could be the one where we finally get to see some real change around here. Whatever happens in 2009, though, Happy Holidays to you and your stupid chinchilla!