Friday, 21 December 2012

In Defence of the ‘Christmas Letter’

Oh dear, the festive ‘round robin’ has taken a real beating from Lynne Truss’s wit and irony this week on BBC Radio 4. You may have heard. In response, I’d better watch my ‘p’s and ‘q’s. Was that correctly punctuated, Lynne?

She made me smile and a small part of me feels some sympathy with her.  Yes, they can be full of accounts of family achievements and no, they do not really take account of the individual recipient’s feelings as much as they should.  If the lucky person receiving a Christmas letter has had a bad year, then of course the last thing they want to hear is how wonderful life is – I mean, truly perfect, children, family, house, health, finances, everything in top-notch order – for someone else.
However, I did send my ‘Christmas letter’ to many people – not all, I must stress – on my Christmas card list. There, I’ve said it. I’ve confessed.  I am that self-satisfied, supercilious, self-important person that apparently all round robin senders are – according to the wonderful (isn’t she just perfect?) Lynne Truss.

So, in defence of my despicable and persistently annual missive I would just like to say:
I was on the brink of going one better, sending out a note to inform all and sundry that this would be our last year for sending Christmas cards, as they do seem very not on-trend amongst trendy people, who would never use the word ‘trendy’ it’s so last century. I did not actually do this; so my point scarcely lends any weight to this debate but, you see, it made me think – always dangerous at this time of year. Some people (mentioning no names) would forget such a note by Christmas 2013 and would assume we had died. Then our children would doubtless get endless phone calls, texts, emails and letters enquiring about our deaths. How could we be such a burden to our children before our actual demise?

There are certainly people whom we have not seen in, possibly, 50 or 60 years, to whom I annually send best wishes and festive goodwill. Perhaps my husband knows who his 3rd cousins twice removed are (What is this?  ).  I am exaggerating but I am not entirely sure what faces belong to which names, even though it behoves me, and always has done, to send them a card. Doubtless they would be quite upset if they did not get a card from us after all these decades. I do not send these distant people a letter.
At the other end of the spectrum there are friends whom we quite possibly saw last week, or a few times during the year. They do not need a letter to update them on the progress of our family.

There is a mass of folk in between though, who do not use Facebook, Twitter or even email that much.  They would scoff at the word ‘blog’. Yes, such people (perfectly nice and normal) exist and I do send them a letter because it is a good way to keep in touch. It is within the bounds of possibility that we may one day meet, call them or visit them when up north or they may drop in to see us if they are down south. Thanks to our yearly exchange of news we would not have to start from scratch with birth of children or grandchildren.
I confess I would not do well if quizzed on the content of Christmas letters past, received from others. You see, we all adopt the manner of skimming – we are quick to spot words like ‘heart attack’, ‘wedding’ , ‘divorce’ or ‘grandchild’. Other things like, ‘holidays … blah … blah … blah …’ we may read but would probably not commit to memory unless we could relate to it or it provided useful information for our next planned trip.
Do our adult children exchange Christmas cards? Probably not. They keep in touch with friends much more efficiently than we ever did at their age, with the wonder of electronics. But we old die-hards like to cling on to the old ways, I suppose. There is a childish delight in hearing the slap of envelopes is they plop onto the hall floor. My husband and I still try to be first to pick them up and have the pleasure of opening them. If there is a letter inside, we are usually pleased – unless it really is one of those that go on and on and on … then I am with Lynne Truss all the way. Too much information gives round robins a bad name.

I tend not to mention too many negatives in my Christmas letter – because, quite frankly, who wants to hear about problems and failures at Christmas? If that means it comes across as smug or just too unbearably cheerful, then I make no apologies.
Merry Christmas – I shall now shut up until next year – but please, do let me have your thoughts. Do you, or don’t you?


  1. I don't do the letter, Miriam, but I do do the cards (I don't mind not being on trend!). I love my Christmas cards! Every one received is proudly displayed - and not in card holders or stuck on doors or walls. Every card has its own little space on whatever surface I can find. To me, they are part of the colourful decoration and tradition of Christmas. My house would feel bare without them. Send them, I say. Let's not lose another lovely tradition to technology. :) xx

  2. For the first year in ages, I didn't mail out Christmas cards. I bought them and had the best of intentions, but it just never happened. I do cherish the cards I receive with or without the Christmas letter.

  3. I too have never done the Christmas letter, possibly because my list is either people I know very well, or people I haven't seen for a long, long time - so it didn't seem relevant. They either know what's happening or probably barely remember me! The last two years we've donated to charity and sent fewer cards. In all honesty I'm on the brink of saying 'that's it' for cards. Having downsized to de-clutter our lives, I put them in a nice pile and then recycle them. Feel awful admitting that, as I know some people love cards. Maybe as you get older you look at things differently, although I dropped into an elderly Aunt's yesterday and the cards pinned to her door made her eyes shine! So I guess I will always send just a few... Merry Christmas!

  4. I do love receiving cards especially if they have those extra few words telling me how well my distant friends are doing. Being a mum of two young children I don't send out the round robin letter, I just don't have time, but I do love receiving them. Isn't it a bit sad that people are cheesed off by other people's success? I say keep up the round robin letters. And in terms of sending Christmas cards, goodness, if you don't have time for cards you don't have time for Christmas! Nxxx

  5. Thanks Nikki! I feel better about sending mine now! Actually the round robin is a time saver really - it takes so much longer to write by hand in each card, but I do admire people who do this.