One of the things I enjoy about being back in my family home for Christmas is browsing through the stack of Christmas epistles that arrive every year. Some are lovely: like the newsletter from my best friend’s parents, which was succinct, interesting and provided just enough information to leave the reader wanting to know more.
Then there’s the Christmas Gazettes that go beyond a page; some cover a whole three sides of A4 paper, with illustrations and photos; others come as attachments via e-mail. You know the kind of December dispatches I’m talking about: the ones that invite you to share in every cough and spit of a family’s year.
They’re always long-winded and verbose, devoting an entire paragraph to each high-achieving child, then going into nauseating detail about exotic holidays and house renovations.
Pet tragedies, health problems, promotions and sporting successes are other highlights of these thumping great missives, usually penned by very distant relations, or long-dropped friends, whose children you haven’t seen in two decades.
I often find myself composing replies in my head to some of the annual outpourings of boasts and banalities. “Well, hurrah for your household’s last 12 months! Every year just gets better and better, if your 4-page Christmas Specials are anything to go by. All those As and A*s for Natasha, Pete becoming general manager (western region), and Fluffy’s attainment of a pet passport! Especially riveting was the way the window you installed in the kitchen in March improved the light levels.”
But then there’s the other category of letter, which is possibly infinitely worse. The misery-fests that begin with lesions being removed and end with an amputation, just as the house is repossessed. “Not much news,” began one letter this year. “Arthur died in October. His son’s family is growing – three grandchildren so far. Kenny’s son in jail for racism. How are things with you?”
Yet, as the writer of a blog myself, chronicling the minutiae of life, I honestly don’t want the brag sheets to stop coming. Because I’ve realised these Christmas staples, and all the sadistic pleasure gained from reading them aloud with plenty of eye rolling and laughter, are as much a part of the festivities as turkey and stuffing. With younger generations tapping their updates out on Facebook and other digital platforms, the round robin’s days are surely numbered. And when they stop piling up at home, I’m going to really miss them.