Christmas Round Robin Letters Round Off The Year

Xmas tree (small).jpgChristmas round robin letters evoke strong views; but they’re an excellent way to keep in touch, even if they often do ‘accentuate the positive’. We’re no longer in communities where we can just pop down the road to share our news.
Should one, or should one not, enclose with one’s festive greetings a newsletter-cum-salutation which brings the recipient up to speed on at least the more positive of one’s experiences over the past twelve months?
‘Round robins’, it is said, are so named because originally they were delivered in Victorian times by postmen wearing red uniforms, a cheery thought for this festive season. Which brings me to the crux of the matter. To round robin or not to round robin? Is it good form to put an annual ‘family newsletter’ addressed to ‘Dear All’ in with the Christmas card?

Keeping in touch
Here’s a question to which there is absolutely not a ‘right’ answer. The pro- and anti- camps are, each of them, both persuasive and unpersuadable.
It’s a question on which both ‘sides’ claim the high moral ground, and a situation in which faux pas is often the order of the day.
But for my money, the answer is Yes, please do send a newsy note with your Christmas card if you (a) can, and (b) would like to ….. providing always that what you are about to relate is mostly pleasant and / or necessary news, and that it will read as sharing rather than blaring.
And I will try to reciprocate in similar manner.
Change of context, change of comms.
Life for most people in the Western world has changed a great deal in the past several decades.
Almost no-one from my youth still lives where they grew up; in fact, few of them even live anywhere near where they studied or started their professional lives. And to this we can add likewise that few of our children now live anywhere near us.
In other words, for large numbers of people their ‘communities’ are many and varied. There are our initial reference points – family and school days; then there are college and early career friends; then we add in-laws or similar; and then our careers often take us in very different directions from those which we may have expected… and so it goes on.
Obviously, not everyone experiences such steadily shifting contextual arrangements, but for an ever-larger proportion of the population such, up to the present, has been life as we know it.
Hardly surprising then that for many of us the Christmas card list continues to grow, and the possibility of individual meaningful and handwritten seasonal letters becomes less and less feasible, despite our very good intentions. We’d have to start the Christmas cards in October, to achieve anything like a respectable output on a fully ‘individualised’ basis.
It’s the intention that counts
So I for one like to receive the annual round robin messages and notes which come through my letterbox during the festive season. We read and share them with others. It’s become a part of the Christmas ritual.
Newsletters make the saluations in the Christmas cards meaningful; these are not greetings from shadowy figures from my past, but from real people in the here-and-now.
The news and views I read from past colleagues and old friends are ever-interesting. The diaspora underpinning our modern lives continues to expand, but the community of interest and shared experience remains.
Shared meaning writ large
Another sense in which we use the term ’round robin’ is to describe the making of a patchwork quilt, sometimes by a number of friends and family together and often as a part of the tradition of American community life. (Though now there are even internet quilting groups!)
Like this simple shared craft activity, round robin letters are not meaningless. Enjoy, joke or even grimace if you must, but also please know that for most of those who write round robins they are a genuine attempt to show that you have not been forgotten. The spirit of Christmas letters reflects the basic commonality of meaning from which we have all emerged to go our separate and fascinating ways.

Posted on December 17, 2005, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Events And Notable Dates, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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