Christmas cards still occasionally drop into the letterbox, although they are clearly endangered. Sometimes they include the Christmas letter. But now that emails have become ubiquitous, these round robin letters appear in ever-increasing numbers through the ether. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It is a good thing because a cheerful, newsy letter from anybody is welcome, but especially if you only hear from them once a year and relish the catching up. Some people have the knack of producing a bumper edition, carefully crafted for maximum entertainment, that lingers in the mind. It is full of the doings of Jake, Lizzie and the twins, and even the cat or the budgie, and because these are people you know and care about, you want to read about them.
It is, however, a bad thing when the round robins grow fat with absurdity. People are human, with all the usual failings, but you would never know it from the relentless catalogue of family puffery, the chest-beating, the one-upmanship that, yes, we all indulge in throughout the year – but in mercifully small doses. These are gathered in a single, jolly, crowing letter decorated with santas and holly, and are aimed at the widest possible circulation that includes everyone in the composer’s email contact list. No longer just about Jake and Lizzie but also about hordes of strangers.
In a book called “The Cat That Could Open the Fridge” (Atlantic Books, 2004) Simon Hoggart collected the best bits of the best of these letters, sent in by people all over the world. It contains, among other gems, news of wonderfully gifted children, exotic holidays, the joys of trading railway ephemera, and playing the flute on Hadrian’s Wall. Hoggart also delves into why people feel compelled to write about “Roger’s decision to cycle to work … Jeremy’s trip to Tasmania or the replacement pet rabbit” (from the book jacket). The book is laugh-out-loud funny but may deter some from composing their own Christmas round robin letter.
I won’t be doing it. I don’t even send cards overseas now, partly because here downunder we have to post before the middle of October and who is thinking of Christmas that early? However, it suddenly occurs to me that a blog is not unlike a round robin letter – a permanent one that goes on for weeks and months and is full of faults and failings, self-puffery and absurdities, crafted for maximum entertainment, and yes, aimed at the widest possible circulation.
So please consider this blog as my personal, year-round-robin letter to everyone, with my very best wishes for Christmas and the new year.