The Christmas Round Robin

It’s the time of year for sending and receiving Christmas cards. Some, posted through the door by neighbours and friends just contain a season’s greeting and a signature. It’s a cultural convention, showing good manners or affection. Others are a yearly minefield – the ones sent from a past life – ex-university flat mates, former work colleagues, or that friend who’s still on your list simply because you went to Primary school together. They are meant to make you feel remembered. But sometimes these annual Round Robins leave me wanting.

The gold-embossed card with the personalised photo full of sparkling Hollywood teeth has me trembling even before I open it and reminds me that Grunting Teen is well overdue a post-pandemic check-up. If only, like Georgina from my student days, I’d gone into a career in banking, I too might have had a second home in the country. The news in this year’s update is rather self-congratulatory. With her generous divorce settlement, she’s bought a lovely pad in Chelsea. And despite having to cancel her skiing trip and a safari this year, she’s still managed to yacht around the Greek islands and pop over to Paris and Porto. Suddenly my day-trip to Cleethorpes loses its sparkle… As for little Hugo, Grunting Teen’s contemporary, he apparently aced his GCSEs and bagged a summer internship with a top-class firm in London.

‘How come I ended up pot washing?’ demands my son, muttering under his breath about the North-South divide, private education and a useless family with no ‘connections’.

‘At least your parents are still together. And you got your job on your own merits,’ the Nearly-Beloved tells him.

And I suppose, he’s right. The grass always looks greener…

Next, I open the slightly risqué Santa greetings full of in-house references, which makes me nostalgic. The days when I had work mates to share banter with has long gone and although a free-lance career has lots of benefits, I miss the comradery that goes with being part of a team. As for our annual festive bash, it was always a highlight. When I express my regrets to the Nearly-Beloved, he looks baffled.

‘You couldn’t wait to leave,’ he says. ‘And besides, everyone’s been working from home for most of the last two years. As for the Christmas party – if they haven’t cancelled it yet, they’ll probably be unwrapping Omicron on the 25th December!’

I nod. Again, he’s got a point. The grass always looks greener. Until suddenly it doesn’t… Smiley Sue, who got her nickname in Y6 for her relentless positivity, doesn’t seem to have had much to smile about this year. Illness, redundancy, and enough family drama to fuel a soap opera.

As I relay the news to the Nearly-Beloved, he shrugs. ‘That’s sad,’ he says, ‘But it’s not as if you two are in touch very often.’

His comment strikes a chord and before I know it, I’ve got out my mobile and typed in Sue’s number. She’s amazed and delighted to hear from me. Once I’ve sympathised about her situation, we move on to reminiscing about our school antics and time flies by. It’s only when Grunting Teen pops his head round the door, groaning ‘I’m well hungry,’ that we end the conversation, promising to meet up in person in the new year.

As I put down the phone, I reflect on why I still send Christmas cards to people who no longer have a starring role in my life. It’s definitely a way of remembering past lives and friendships. Occasionally it’s a way of reconnecting. And it’s also a reminder that the grass on my side is actually green enough.

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