The Christmas cards come rolling in.   This year, so far, they have all brought tidings of joy in the sense that they are not doom laden with news of death or impending divorce.   In some years, so much bad news about friends has arrived that you begin to feel anxious about opening envelopes.   But in 2010, everyone seems to have survived intact.

Then there are the mysteries, cards from people you’ve never heard of.    Who are Sylvia and Terence?    I ask my husband.   No idea.    We know a Sylvia and Robin.   Am I misreading it?   We both squint at the signature.   No, it clearly says, Terence; and what’s more it’s not ‘our’ Sylvia’s writing.      We look at the envelope.   Post stamp unreadable.   And our address in all its details  correct, down to the post code.      No letter, no return address.    Well, Terence and Sylvia, here’s to you, whoever you are.

Although I must admit I view the accusing boxes of unwritten Christmas cards with a sinking heart, I continue to send them because I myself enjoy receiving news of people.    I do get a little irritated when you receive a card from someone distant, of whom you’ve received no other news that year, which is simply inscribed, love, Mary and Bill.    Couldn’t Mary (or Bill) have scrawled, we are all well; or, we had a lovely party for Bill’s birthday – or something?    All that card tells you is they are alive, and can write, which I suppose is better than nothing.

People scorn the ‘round robin’ but I don’t mind them.   True, there are those whose life is one long round of glorious achievement, (rather like the Emperor Meiji) – people whose husband won the Nobel Prize that year, or whose son graduated from Medical School with marks so high that a special never-before-heard-of category of brilliance has had to be created to accommodate the heights of his intellect; who had holidays, sponsored by Croesus, where coffers of gold were shipped out beside them to cover their day to day expenses, or, conversely, they found in some artistic and exotic country some bargain, unbelievably rare and valuable, which they bought for a denarius.    Why are you surprised?   These people were like that before ever they put pen to paper.   Read and learn (and laugh).    Most people’s round robin is just an account of what they did that year.

Round robins can give fascinating insights into family dynamics.   One lady wrote a pages-long eulogy on her eldest son’s accomplishments (which were, it has to be said, fairly modest.)   Still, I thought – loving mother, why not?    I rifled among the pages for some news of the younger son.   I found it.   ‘Jeremy is also well.’     Jeremy is also well?    It’s the ‘also’ that would kill him if ever he reads it.    (Mind you, he will probably do the better in life, if only to prove his mother wrong.)

And there was the man whom I knew, in my youth, who wrote elegant, erudite accounts of their family life, in which his daughter, a high achieving professional, featured prominently.   I knew he’d had a son, the last I’d heard of whom was that he’d failed to get in to Eton.    Over the years, decades even, family news was given but no mention was ever made of his son.   By now I had forgotten his name, and I came to the conclusion he had died, and my correspondent found the matter too painful to mention.     Imagine my surprise when my distinguished acquaintance finally departed this life, and his daughter, dutiful as ever, wrote to me.   This was interesting on many levels.  Firstly she did not know who she was talking to or how well I had known him.   My name had been on a list of people he wanted her to inform.    So here she was, dutiful and diligent as ever, accepting his point of view, all the things that had made her Daddy’s darling, still doing what Daddy told her.    But the bombshell was that the brother was not only alive and doing well in a modern industry, but he had been able, with swift ease, to crack all the codes his secretive and paranoid father had put in to protect his documents .     The unmentionable son was evidently as clever as his father – just  not in ways that Daddy had approved of.    Certainly Daddy had never had the measure of me, but I only had to walk away from him.       The son’s self determination had obviously been harder to achieve.    I mentally toasted his success and I wrote the dutiful daughter a polite letter telling her how esteemed she had been in her father’s eyes, and I never told her who I was.

When all the Christmas cards are gathered in, and Christmas is over for another year, I shuffle the cards in my hands, and regarding them now as mere objects, amuse myself by deciding, on aesthetic grounds only, which card pleases me most that year.    I myself try to select neutral, abstract cards:  this year we had a silver star on a white card.    

Out of all the lovely cards we have received this year, there are three contenders for my Card of the Year prize in 2010.    There is a very beautiful one of cherry blossom on gold card, from Elisabeth in Japan.    But this one is so exotic and beautiful, and from such a distant provenance, and spring like, that I set it aside to keep near my desk and look at throughout the coming year.

My artistic friend, Moira, has a keen eye for beauty, and her card of Two Flycatchers on a scarlet Nanten Bush in Snow makes me pause.    I wonder why it appeals to me so much and then I notice it is done by my favourite Japanese artist, Koson Ohara (1877 – 1945) and what is more, it is one I have never seen before.   I make a mental note to pin it to my Notice Board.


But I’m going to select as my ‘card of the year’ a lovely little study of five fat sparrows.   They’re so cheerful and bouncy, such a symbol of the common man and his survival, so pretty in their greys and browns – I just love them.     A symbol of faith too – not one sparrow falls to earth but thy Father knoweth…     I hope the sparrow survives to prosper; and thank you to Eugene and Susan.

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.


  1. Eugene Windsor says:

    Thanks for the award! Susan picked the card from the RSPB catalogue. We like it too. We have a colony of sparrows that live in a tree in the corner of the garden (sparrowland) and they chirp away cheerfully all year round (maybe something to do with the vast amounts of food we make available to them). They are not the most excotic of garden birds but there is something cheerful about them.

    On the round robin front, I love receiving them though I have to admit I am always fairly scornful of the content and of course I want to correct all the grammar, punctuation and layout errors. I keep thinking we should do a parody one but I hold back partly from lack of time but also not to cause offence to the many who do take them seriously.


  2. Maggie says:

    I gave up sending cards except a few and they get the Lamb digest included! Just a few highlights really. I heartily wish people didnt bother posting me the card that simply is signed, not even bothering to write our names, What a waste of trees and stamps and energy, the only good thing about those is if a charity benefits, by the purchase or recycling the cards . I like you Anne, really enjoy the round robins, even better when there is a photo or two involved. I liked your fat sparrows very much too!
    The blog is great, thanks , x Maggie

  3. Clare Collins says:

    I too have a ritual with cards that I like. For the festive period they go on the shelf next to the place where I sit in the sitting room . I have the odd dilemma. Like this year when a lovely card arrived from soemone I didn’t particularly like and so I didn’t want to be reminded of this each time I sat down. But fortune smiled and the same card arrived from another dear friend and so the lovely picture got pride of place after all!

    • adhocannie says:

      Ours go on the mantel-piece and right hand unit if family and relatives. Others just go aorund the place in no particular order. The left hand unit is left for John’s (Boxing Day) brithday cards. You don’t actually notice you have these rituals until someone points them out. I have a tatty old red cloth that I embroidered 30 years ago, and we went to S Charleston, USA one year and had Christmas with Elisabeth out there, and I was quite touched when the non-sentimental John secretly packed the cloth. I was really surprised how difficult it was to get what I regarded as quite stnadard ingredients for a British Christmas (stuffing, marzipan) in the uSA. At least the unloved friend has taste!

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