As well as being a time of celebration, this time of year is also a time for reflection. And I get to reflect every year, the week before December 25th, as I write the envelopes for my Christmas cards. Who's getting one? And, more particularly, who's not?
I always send a card to all of my work colleagues. Most of them never bother to send one back, and quite frankly I don't mind if they don't, but I still aim for a one-to-one correspondence. This year my team's been undergoing what's perhaps best described as refocused downsizing, and there are only half as many people to send to compared to last Christmas. People I used to work with day in day out have moved on, continuing their lives somewhere far away and out of sight. I can't leave a card on their desk any more, and I never got an address when they left, so they've disappeared forever off my Christmas card list. It's strange how quickly long-term working relationships melt away. One year these are some of the most important people in our lives, the next we've all moved on and are busy leading separate lives.
I still send Christmas cards to certain people I used to work with. Only a few, usually the ones who make an effort to send back, but it's good to keep in touch and to remember that each other still exists. Often there's a letter tucked inside, or a few sentences scribbled inside the card, as a tiny brief summary of how their lives are ploughing forward without me. I still send cards to half of the folk I worked with in my last job, and a quarter of those in the job before that, and one single married couple from very first job. Decade-by-decade attrition diminishes their numbers, some gone but not forgotten, others simply no longer acknowledged.
I still send Christmas cards to a number of folk I used to go to university with. We never chat, we never meet, but I know they're still out there because we swap cardboard each Christmas. As for the hundreds of kids I went to school with, they've all fallen completely off radar. The last schoolmate I used to send a card to went off to work in Brussels a few years ago and there's been festive silence ever since. It's odd how such an important chapter of my life has been reduced to simply memories and a stack of old exercise books in the spare room.
I still send Christmas cards to other people I've met outside of work and education. Not very many, because I'm a generally anti-social bugger at heart, but they're often the people I'm most likely to continue sending to for the longest time.
And I still send Christmas cards to the rest of my family, obviously, to a circulation list that hasn't changed in a couple of decades. For which I remain unduly thankful.
I'm not sending a Christmas card to one very special former colleague who passed away this year. We worked closely for several years, and then she retired with so many plans for the future, and then that future was relentlessly ripped away. Hers was always the card with the longest letter, reporting back in depth on family and friends, but never quite hinting at what was really going on closer to home. I started writing out her envelope this year, then took a very deep breath, then deleted her from my list.
My Christmas card list for 2009 is, I've checked, 25% shorter than that for 1999. Umpteen former contacts have fallen off, and not enough have taken their place. My circle of festive acquaintances is shrinking as my life moves on, and as communication shifts relentlessly from letterbox to online. But there's still nothing quite like a signed reindeer in an envelope, or a scribbled note on the inside of a snow-capped robin. I wonder how few I'll be sending by 2019.