Who else finds writing Christmas cards the cause not just of gladness but pain and sorrow? I put off “doing” my Christmas list until I’m in the mood – and light a candle and have a glass of sherry or wine to help create that mood. Why? Because each year I have to engage with the major change in people’s lives; the gap of a year between communications throws those changes – for good and for bad – into sharp relief.
There are those who must now be addressed The … Family, because a new baby has been born. You remember the mother as a tiny blonde cherub herself. Then there are the divorces, where you refer back to the previous year’s Christmas newsletter and gaze at the photo of the mother with her two tall sons, and remember when you rejoiced at her marriage, at the news of the arrival of their first baby… and now “he” has disappeared from their lives, and is no longer referred to. Then there’s the lady whose previous husband beat her up – a fact she communicated to you in a Christmas newsletter 5 years ago – and who sent you the news 3 years ago that she was marrying someone else she only referred to by his first name – and hasn’t been in touch since. You’d like to try and restore the lines of communication, but you only have the surname of the ex-husband. You presume she’s now living with the new man – unless that relationship too has broken up – but you’re not quite sure, and you have to address her in such a way that takes account of different possible scenarios.
And there are the couples whose children have now grown up and left home and started their own families, so you can now revert to sending cards to the couple alone, without their children’s names… and that feels sad too, despite the fact that this has been in many ways a happy change.
Then there are the people who have died, and whose names have to be crossed off your Christmas list and out of your address book – a task that always feels callous to me, every time I do it. And the people you’re going to send a card to who may well have died, but nobody has told you, so you won’t know, unless your card is returned to you by some helpful relative in the New Year.
So much change for good or bad. Then it occurs to me that at least my own family unit is “the same as last year” and perhaps that fact alone is a cause for at least one small flare of gladness and relief in the hearts of those who receive our greetings.
But should it be? For those on our Christmas list often only communicate the stark facts that will affect the way we address our envelopes to them next year. Behind it all lies the complex reality of their lives. As a novelist I know what is in my characters’ hearts; but not in the hearts of everyone on my Christmas list – the new parents, the newly-bereaved, the freshly-betrayed, the lonely, the divorced, even those who superficially appear to have everything in order, even those who claim success and triumph all round for every member of the family… their lives are far more complex than can ever be conveyed in the artificial confines of the Christmas card or newsletter.
Perhaps the candle flame is there to remind me of that.
2 thoughts on “The Christmas List”
This is so touching. It captures all the complex emotions that are aroused by our Christmas task of somehow “touching base” with people we’ve not contacted throughout the year. I bet your “Drowned Robin” would strike a chord with many readers if you published it – with personal details disguised of course!
I feel much the same about my Christmas card list. I too like to put on some Christmas music and have some mulled wine before I start. I felt that so much had happened to me in 2011 with “retirement” being the most life-changeing that the easiest thing to do was to write a newsletter or “Round Robin” This I sent to the people who I dont see very often, just to put them in the picture and then to add my own personal comments. After I sent them out with my cards, which I eventually had the energy to send, I seemed to hear nothing but negative comments about Christmas Newsletters particularly on the radio and at my church group. However, I have had positive feedback from my newsletter with people who I hadnt heard of for a while writing to me after Christmas and ringing up for a chat so I am glad I did it!
There was a sad outcome though, A while after Christmas I came home to a returned card lying on the mat saying “Return to sender – adressee deceased” and that was all. The “deceased” was my Father’s best friend, his best man and my Godfather! It could have happened within the last 2 years or so as he was unable to write cards but this time my address was on the letter, and the owner of the house must have returned it.
Some years ago, after a rather dreadful year, I sat down and typed a newsletter that I would never send, it itemised every detail. It was very cathartic and helped me “put the year to rest” and move on. I called this excercise a “Drowned Robin!” I do wonder what would have happened if I had actually sent it.
Maybe this year I should re-write my address book so that I am not faced with all the crossed out addresses. I couldnt destroy the old one though as it holds many happy memories.