On Single Malt, Time Dilation, French Poetry, Ectotherms and G.K. Chesterton: A Christmas Note for 2011

Beloved family and friends,

As I sat down to begin penning this 2011 Burden Family Christmas missive, I was struck by a single, clear, profound thought: “Dear heavens, there is not enough single malt Scotch in the whole state of New Hampshire to get me through this task.” Regardless, let us soldier on and see how far we get, keeping in mind that if we do drain the state dry, from Manchester, the Massachusetts border is only 30 minutes away.

A traditional holiday letter might at this point regale you with a year’s worth of charming anecdotes about the precociousness of the family’s children: little so-and-so just published his first virelai nouveau, in French, based on Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme, blah, blah blah. At which point the reader is left wondering if Fabrice’s many affairs in Naples are in fact good subject matter for even the most precocious seven-year-old, and what the hell is a virelai nouveau?

But as you know, we have refused to allow David (9), Sofia (7), or Isobel (4), to write any of their poetry in French – at least until they have mastered all the lyric forms in Spanish and German. And while they have complained bitterly about this throughout the year, we have held firm on the point and are glad to have done so. This means, however, that we have fewer examples of their precociousness to boast of in this letter, particularly ones that will appeal to our francophile correspondents.

I must admit that we have been less strict with Gabriel (6 mos.) and he is allowed to compose in any language he pleases. A recent work is entitled, “Goo.”

Speaking of Gabriel, he’s new to this whole Christmas mise en scene, this being his first holiday season ex-utero. He is delighted by the lights, the sounds, the smells of the season, as evidenced by how wide his eyes open as his adoring siblings drag him around the house with their hands under his armpits as though he were a cat, his little pajama-swaddled body dangling like a December dumpling. It is interesting to note just how much delighted joy can resemble abject terror.


All right, back at the old iPad virtual keyboard, glass refilled. While I was at it, I took ten minutes to peruse my and my wife’s Facebook feeds, having realized that I have traveled so much for work this year I have no idea what’s happened. Not because I wasn’t here a good amount of the time, or giving a sufficient amount of attention to Kris and the kids, but simply because the constant altitudinous high speed trips have caused more than a little “time dilation.” As physicist John Carroll’s A Time Travel Web Site points out, “a fundamental postulate of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is that the laws of physics hold true for all inertial frames of references.” In other words, having spent so much time in airplanes, I’ve not missed things that have gone on this year, they just that they haven’t happened for me yet. The good news is that I have only aged half as much everybody else in the family. (I’ve managed to counteract this effect by running as many miles as I’ve flown, in all sorts of harsh weather, thereby aging my face until it’s as craggy as an ent. Edward James Olmos sends me skin care tips.) I’m greatly looking forward to June 2011, when I turn 41 and we experiment with taking a month-old baby camping in the White Mountains. According to my own Tweets, we have (had) a lovely time.

Roaming farther down the social media timeline, I see that we laughed quite a bit, gave the kids plenty of hugs, watched David and Sofia go back to school – fourth and second grade! – drew like mad, that favorite family pastime, sang songs, wrote countless volumes of stories, built empires in Lego and then constructed the trebuchets with which to destroy them.

Sofia, the Cat Whisperer, reports that despite the smell, both felines are still alive and as charmingly surly as ever. The turtle slumbers in the basement, an ectothermic leviathan whose baleful eye closed for the season’s hibernation before he could finish the last, desperate fish swimming through the little castle, which he has named Pyke of the Iron Islands. Geek.

Finally, here at the last, even the most mordant, Swiftian author of the pre-Epiphinial epistle might be tempted to turn maudlin and mawkish, or worse, sincere — to renege on the promise of whiskey-soaked sarcasm with which he essayed forth, and type something serious about the depth of love and gratitude he has for his family, his friends, and all the great blessings God has commended to his stewardship. He might swerve then to the deeper meaning of the season, past the frenzy of commercialism, the Black Friday Walmart waffle-maker brawls and insipid contemporary “holiday” songs, and comment in full Chestertonian throat on the awesome mystery of an all powerful God choosing divide the very nature of history and reality by personally entering the world, not in the guise of a king with a flaming sword, but a baby, born in the humblest circumstances imaginable, to reconcile all of humanity back to the unity with Him for which it was created. It’s not hard to see why a writer would struggle not to let his carefully constructed voice lapse in order to offer genuine comment on these important matters.

I however, will do no such thing. The glass is empty, the fire is burned down to embers, and somebody’s got to bring the trash to the curb and turn the Christmas lights out before bedtime. I guess I’d better go wake up Kristen.

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