The Emperor's New Clothes (02/12/12)

We like to sneer at Christmas round robins, but David Randall is proud to be writing (a short) one today

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This weekend, I will sit down and commit what is now almost universally regarded as a social clanger. I will write a round-robin letter of family news to slip inside some of the Christmas cards I send. It will define me, according to popular thinking, as being beyond any remotely acceptable pale. I might as well live in Croydon and own a caravan; both of which, as it happens, I also do.

The letters have gained this terrible reputation because alarming numbers of folk have used them as a form of social point-scoring – school playground boasting, only with better grammar. You know the kind of thing: "Lavinia got straight A-stars and is bound for Trinity, Cambridge, to join her brother Tarquin. She plays flute in the National Youth Orchestra, and her latest wheeze is learning Mandarin. She spends the entire journey every Friday night down to our cottage in the Cotswolds conjugating verbs!" And then there are the bores, the senders of 3,500-word journals of the year recording everything from their eBay purchases to the state of the toilets on the overnight ferry to Bilbao. Both kinds are not so much information for the recipient as therapy for the sender.

There is another way. We have friends from our youth, and relatives distant in every sense, with whom a Christmas card is the only contact. They have a passing interest in us, and so get a brutally brief news summary, eg "Paul married Laura in July, Tom is now engaged to Roisin …" etc. Just the facts, no comment, and, for a family of wife, husband, four sons, attendant daughters-in-law and grandson, not much more than half a page on one side of paper. It abides by two further dictums: self-deprecation rarely works on paper, and anything of which you are inordinately proud should be struck out. No one likes a braggart.

Alternatively, to enliven Christmas card sending, you could adopt the approach of my grandfather. Every year, he would send spoof cards to well-chosen targets. Once, to his street's most ardent temperance campaigner, he despatched a card depicting some especially boisterous wassailing with, written inside in a cheery hand: "Thanks for all your custom, Dolly at The Rose and Crown".

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