By Lenore Skenazy

Stop! No need to set your mailbox on fire! Those Christmas letters you're getting this time of year — the extremely happy ones from people you haven't heard from since December 2007 — are not to be taken at face value! They're like those stamps with Elvis on them from strange, tiny countries. Worthless!

If you happen to receive one of those letters around the time you are opening a can of sardines to share with your cat (who's sick), remember: No one's life is really like that, just as no one's house really has all those perfect icicles hanging from it. It's just Christmas window dressing.

Need some perspective? Just whip out this handy ... HOLIDAY CARD TRANSLATION KIT

Dear Friend:

Dear person who rates only this Xeroxed brag sheet:

I hope this letter finds you in good health.

I hope this letter finds you, period, as I haven't updated my mailing list since the Gulf War.

Hard to believe another year has gone by!

Hard to believe I forgot to call you all year!

Things have been very busy.

Our accomplishments follow:

For starters, Henry and I decided to renew our wedding vows.

... on the condition that Henry will dump the Rockette.

We went back to Acapulco, where it all began.

... our honeymoon, that is. Not the midlife fling with Trixie L'Amour, or whatever her name is.

When we returned home, little Jimmy — who's not so little anymore! — welcomed us with a surprise party.

... The surprise was that he was having a party. Guess he got our return date wrong.

Our boy is 6 feet 2 inches tall now and very busy with his friends.

We haven't seen him since Thursday.

He's applying to college — ...

... why not? ...

... and hoping to go to Harvard.

... as is every other D-plus student at his high school. But he probably will end up at the LaSalle Academy of Petty Crime.

Alana is 12 and very independent.

Alana keeps her door shut.

She's writing a novel.

... It's called "My Life in Hell." Must be fiction, right?

She won first prize at the science fair, started a rock group, and starred in her school's production of "The Nutcracker."

Alana likes spending time away from home.

On the job front, Henry just got a big promotion. He's finally his own boss.

... Now all he needs is a company.

Me? I've started working out.

... because I gained 30 pounds.

And I'm feeling really good about things.

... Except my life. And my kids. And my marriage.

In fact, I'm taking a class at the community college in "eclectic mysticism."

... Henry thinks I've gone off the deep end.

Who knows? Maybe there's more out there than we think!

... Maybe I was an Egyptian cat in my previous life! That's what Dax says. Dax should know. Dax was a pharaoh.

One of our assignments in class was to try to get in touch with our "inner angel."

One of our assignments in class involved a group back rub.

I felt something I'd never felt before!

... Eat your heart out, Trixie.

Afterward, the teacher invited some of us over to see his Tibetan butter etchings.

... Well, he invited one of us, anyway.

It was wonderful art!

It was wonderful!

And that's all that's new! Hope all's well by you!

Hope all's well by me!

And that your holidays are wonderful.

... like wonderful Dax.

Take care!

Take me! Dax, take me!

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at Advertising Age. She is the founder of FreeRangeKids.com. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.