Monday, December 26, 2011

Should auld acquaintances . . . ?

Do you understand th
e complex etiquette of Christmas cards?
I wish I did.
Over the years my Christmas card list has steadily grown longer and longer. First come the cards I exchange with friends and family. Then come the cards exchanged with acquaintances from the past, people whom it's good to hear from once a year.
But, looking at my list last month, I realised that it included a considerable number of recipients whom I only ever hear from at Christmas and now barely know. At what point, I wondered, is it right for auld acquaintances to be quietly forgotten?

I'm sure you know what I mean. There's that pleasant couple that you met on holiday and exchanged cards with the following Christmas, how long should they stay on the list? Or, as in my case, there's the old school friend whom I haven't met since our schooldays. We weren't close friends in our teens, does she still want to keep in touch? Most illogical of all is the card I receive annually from my mother's cleaning-lady's daughter.

During my childhood in Kent, my mother had a cleaning-lady. Over the years they became good friends and, when we moved to Somerset, they continued to exchange cards at Christmas. When my mother died, the cleaning-lady maintained the tradition by
sending Christmas cards to me. It was when the cleaning-lady died that things became convoluted. Her daughter, whom I'd only met once (she was eight and I was ten) clearly felt obliged to maintain her mother's Christmas card list. For several years now I've been receiving an annual card from my mother's cleaning-lady's daughter, about whom I know absolutely nothing!

Heartened by the conviction that these people, and several others, would be relieved to strike my name off their Christmas card lists, I came to a decision. After careful selection, I made a list of seventeen cards that I would only send if the potential recipient acted first.

What happened? You've guessed it! All those cards that I never expected to receive came flocking through the letter-box. Even more surprising, for the first time for years many carried not just a signature, but a personal message and an enquiry. Not having posted their cards in advance, I was able to respond to these enquiries and forge new links with old friends.

Did I hear from my mother's cleaning-lady's daughter? Much to my surprise, hers was the first card to arrive! But it wasn't until I opened it that I realised how I value this link with the past.
No matter that we wouldn't recognise each other, that we know nothing of each other's lives . . we meet across the years, re-establishing memories through the exchange of cards.

Is it so very fanciful to liken Christmas cards to that first Christmas star? Like the star, they act as heralds to the Christmas story . . . and. in the manner of that first star, they shine their welcome light in the most unexpected places!