I HAVE American relatives. For as long as I can remember, a happy festive postcard – a grinning picture of all the members of my extended family over there – would pop through the door at Christmas.
To us in Britain, in the pre-Facebook and Skype days, it was a lovely way to watch the family, who we saw rarely, grow up.
For the past few years, the photograph has included my two older cousins’ handsome partners and now, the two cute offspring of cousin number one.
They are so perfect, standing there all together, laughing away, framed by a green or red surround decorated with wreaths and berries, that you can’t help but smile when you see the card.
When I mentioned to my cousin that picture cards remained a wacky idea this side of the Atlantic, she was stunned. “So what do people do?” she asked. “They just send cards at Christmas with random pictures of snowmen and things? Crazy.”
The family picture card is as common as tinsel in the States. Some people take it a step too far, using Photoshop to dress themselves up as Santa’s elves, or in one extreme case doing the rounds on the internet, swapping their face with that of their dog.
One US family’s video Christmas offering went viral this week. Penn Holderness and his wife and two children wrote their own rap charting the year’s achievements, while wearing matching “Christmas jammies”. They rapped about events such as daughter Lola’s ability to count to 100 in Chinese and Penn’s decision to have a vasectomy. It all seemed rather lovely and wholesome until the final verse revealed that it was actually a plug for Penn’s new business – making corporate videos.
But even that is somehow still more bearable than the written alternative.
My parents regularly receive a round robin from people they met almost 30 years ago – and have rarely seen since.
They were nice enough, from what I remember, but the annual categorising of their family’s achievements – usually running to three or four pages – provided hours of amusement. One year, however, things went awry. There was no round robin. I told my parents they should head straight down to Hertfordshire, or wherever it was these people lived to check they were OK. The following Christmas, the panic was only thinly veiled: “Charlotte broke up with her long-term boyfriend last year. I think the boyfriend was far more upset than she was – ha ha ha ha ha!”
Subtext: “When am I going to become a grandmother? I had high hopes of this one. Granted, his teeth stuck out a little and he had a really annoying habit of picking his nose at the dinner table – but beggars can’t be choosers!”
I shouldn’t criticise, because I am terrible at sending Christmas cards. I start out with great intentions, settle down at the start of December with a large glass of wine and a nice new pen, draw up a list and start writing. That is, until I’m distracted by the toddler crying. Or the washing up. Or the final of X Factor, which I don’t even watch. Before I know it, 24 December has come round and I’ve managed the grand total of five cards – three of them hastily scribbled on the way over to a friend’s house in fear that they might have been more organised than me this year.
Every time another red or silver envelope plops through the letterbox, I feel guilty. But not too guilty to stop me checking who the card is addressed to. I am one of these terribly modern gals who has not changed her name, post-marriage. But for some reason Christmas brings out the need in people to conform with tradition.
Not only do some insist on addressing the cards to “Mr and Mrs T–”, but many of them use my husband’s single initial as well. If I ever bring it up, people say: “But it’s difficult to fit both names on the card, it’s a lot easier to write Mr and Mrs.” Is it? What do they write on the envelopes of all of their terrible friends who are not, shock – MARRIED?!
But I shouldn’t be so ungrateful.
Anyway, it looks like I’ve missed the last posting dates again this year. Maybe there’s still time to write a rap and get the toddler to learn it in time for Christmas. Video camera at the ready.