Dec 20, 2017

Newsletters and Christmas cards: A case for holding on to past traditions

Back in the day, when people sent annual family newsletters at Christmas time, they usually had a bad press. I remember seeing, in times past, December articles in the newspapers ridiculing the way that they were seen: with (very funny) mock-ups full of wildly inflated good news and the miraculous achievements of each member of the family. And then, and now, nonetheless, I go on writing a family update each year, to circulate amongst family and friends.

Not, I hasten to add, to blow our own trumpets, but to sum up the sort of year that our family has had: the highs and lows, and main items of news – happy births, sad deaths, grandchildren starting school and other such landmarks of the changing years, places we’ve travelled to, and so on and so forth. And yes, occasionally there is something to blow a trumpet about. Just a bit.

Somehow, each year, I manage to squeeze all of that into one page, shared with a photo that I especially like, taken during that year. I enjoy writing it, and sending it around, and then adding a copy to my file of updates collected over many years now. And as someone who would have loved to be a diarist but never had the persistence to follow through (so many journals started optimistically in January only to be followed by 11 months of blank pages!), a great benefit of these newsletters is that I then have a sort of attenuated diary of our lives.

Some of the recipients know a lot of what’s in each, some a little, and some none of it. But I send the same one to all, and hope that they enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy getting them from the diminishing number of others who are bucking the trend to do away with all of that, and continue to send their news – about which I have a similar range of knowledge of the contents, depending on who’s writing it. With our busy lives, there is so much that is going on that it’s great to have a summary that might well include something that we didn’t know, even from the closest family and friends.

And they augment the often brief seasonal greetings in the cards that we get. From those who still send them. Nowadays, the cards, too, are being mocked. Just the other day I read a feature that ridiculed the sending of cards to people whom you haven’t seen all year. For me, that is one of the main reasons FOR sending them.

The older we get, the more we might well have collected friends and connected with family members from diverse locations, people we’ve had good times with, and now don’t see, and seldom hear from because of said busy lives, so that we’ve sort of dropped off each other’s current radars. Come Christmas – or whatever equivalent annual thinking-of-friends-and-family event – and writing to each other is a way of keeping up the link and savouring the happy memories of being, just for a bit, a part of each other’s lives.

Sometimes, even, when going through my address book, I come across someone with whom I haven’t been in touch with for years, and on an impulse send one to them, to see what happens. And, yes, I know what a total dinosaur that shows me up to be, in the world of emails and social media links.

While social media platforms are not for me, in fact, I do enjoy conversations by email. At the same time, however, I am also a big fan of the old-fashioned thing of writing and actually posting and receiving posted letters (a whole other story). And for me, the sending and getting of actual, physical Christmas cards remains similarly special, at a time when it isn’t for many. Just the other day, for example, a close friend who used to get dozens of cards reported sadly that this year, so far, she had only received four of them.

So there I stand in front of the post office, with my 29 newsletter-filled cards, like King Canute, trying to turn the tide.

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