Monday, 17 December 2012

What not to write in your Christmas card

The entire hand-written text of a card just received from an old school friend reads, "Any grand-children yet?" (Well, there's the usual printed "Season's Greetings" or whatever, but I was so startled I didn't notice that).

I'm sure she didn't mean to be rude or upsetting in any way but the measure of my reaction can be gauged by my reply in my card to her: "No, not yet!"

The exchange just made we wonder what is acceptable to put in a card. In another one, a different schoolfriend (these are the only two I have kept up with) mentioned how she and her husband were feeling really old but, by definition, she is the same age as me and I don't.

Most people don't just write "Good wishes" or "With love" and I admit to feeling just a tad disappointed if they do. If you hear from someone only once a year, you sort of want to know what they've been up to in the last twelve months. But when you have several children and a busy career, you get tired of writing all the same words in a hundred cards: hence the dreaded Christmas newsletter.

Such things led to Simon Hoggart's first book on the Round Robin, The Cat that could open the Fridge. Followed later by The Hamster that Loved Puccini.


It's apparently a middle class phenomenon, the Christmas newsletter and I am guilty as charged on both counts. Wikipedia says "While a practical notion, Christmas letters meet with a mixed reception; recipients may take it as boring minutiae, bragging, or a combination of the two, whereas other people appreciate Christmas letters as more personal than mass produced cards with a generic missive and an opportunity to "catch up" with the lives of family and friends who are rarely seen or communicated with."

Lynne Truss is currently producing "Six replies to the Christmas newsletter" on the Today programme on Radio 4 and this morning's episode saw her get her revenge by correcting the family's punctuation and telling the wife her husband was a secret adulterer! Clearly she hates them.

The first Christmas card was produced in 1843, only 170 years ago and got the creator into a bit of trouble, since it showed parents drinking wine with young children:

by John Callcott Horsley

Bizarrely, it came out in May. I wonder what message people put in them? "Have a great time in seven months from now!"?

Do you send lots of Christmas cards, a few or none? And what do you write in them? Do you hate round robins or find them interesting?

And have you got any grandchildren yet?


Sue Bursztynski said...

I have a friend who sends a Christmas newsletter. I suppose I do want to know what's happened with her and her amily over the year, but I really preferred it when we were exchanging letters long ago. I put in a few details rather than just,"Love" or "best wishes". In recent years I have taken to giving virtual gifts, such as a goat or a chicken as cards.

bookwitch said...

When I stopped writing the Christmas letter I had requests (complaints) for it to return. When someone dropped off my list I had more complaints about lack of news. I must write awesome letters.
This year I have seriously rationed the cards based on time, but primarily on the 50p postage.
I find that putting my name in the card is a good thing, or they won't know it's from me. That's often the only thing I write.

Paeony Lewis said...

I get frustrated with people who rant loudly about Christmas 'newsletters'. If I don't see somebody for years then I want to see images of them and their children growing up. I want to know more. If they brag, it doesn't bother me because at least they're proud of their children. I wouldn't still be in touch with them if I didn't care about their lives. However, I haven't made up my mind about photographs of families and their children being used as cards...

Penny Dolan said...

I'd rather have a newsletter than not as, like Paeony, I do want to know what's been happening to friends we aren't in contact with very often. My hand-written letters for including in cards worked well at the start of the list but lost some of the sparkle midway down as the list of other seasonal jobs weighed down. There's lots of other things to sound off and be grumpy about at this time of year, imo. Ms Truss please note.(We do the Dolan Digest option.) And you don't have to read them!

K M Kelly said...

I quite like them, but then, none of my friends letters are boastful.

Stroppy Author said...

I get frustrated by people I haven't seen for years who don't put a return address on their cards/envelopes. Often I haven't sent them a card for years because I've lost track of where they live - not because I don't want to communicate!

On the whole, I hate round robins as they are full of dull trivia ('we had a nice meal for my birthday' - doesn't everyone?). But I have one friend who produces it like a proper newsletter, laid out in Quark, and presented in a witty way with lots of photos. And the family do have exciting lives, so it's interesting. I'd never do one. The disparity between what I would have to say about my two children would be too extreme. A problem that comes with a big age gap, but encourages sibling rivalry!

adele said...

I adore round robins! If they're bad, they're very entertaining. And if they're genuinely interesting and from people you like and rarely see, then it's a good way of catching up. I usually just write Love from to friends and Best Wishes to acquaintances. That's it. I send LOADS and love choosing them and the whole palaver. The postage is daunting but I buy the stamps on a credit card and contrive to forget the amount quite quickly. I also love getting cards which provide prettily decorated rectangles for shopping lists for at least the next nine months.

annewalker said...

I miss those times that people are thinking so hard and put much concern and thoughts on what to write in a christmas card. Today, there are ready-written cards that you can buy so many doesn't have to worry about writing. As for me, no words are wrong in cards, as long as you put your heart in writing it, you're good to go.

Happy Holidays, everyone!
Anne Walker

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