The last Christmas posting date for second class mail, which was yesterday, usually spurs me to get my Christmas cards sorted. I still post cards every year, in part as an annual reminder to former acquaintances that I still exist, but I used to post a lot more than I do now.
» I still send eight cards to people I knew in the 1960s. That's all my immediate family, plus my surviving aunts and uncles, plus all the cousins who now send me a card because their parents no longer can. Also on this list is my godfather, who must be pushing 80 but still remembers every birthday and Christmas without fail.
» I only send one card to someone I first knew in the 1970s. That's because all my friends from primary and secondary school have lost touch, the absence of digital communication one key reason our connections inexorably faded away.
» I send six cards to people I first knew in the 1980s. Mostly that's university friends, now all grown up with families of their own... the number of appended offspring occasionally increasing year by year. My first job provides the only other recipients, specifically the friendly pair who took me under their wing all those years ago.
» I send eleven cards to people I first knew in the 1990s, making this my most Christmas-cardy decade. Four of those are additional family, because when your brother gets married that introduces in-laws and eventually nephews and nieces. Five of the cards are from my second job, a cheery place to work, with both the boss and the secretary still on my annual list. And the final two relate to job three, a less cheery period but with a couple of connections shining through.
» I only send two cards to people I first knew in the 2000s. That number used to be over fifty when my team at work was huge, but repeated downsizing put paid to that, and the only former colleagues I'm still in regular contact with aren't really the card-sending sort.
» And I send no cards to people I first knew in the 2010s. People you're friends with online don't tend to be the cardboard-rectangle-sending type. Must try harder.
That's 28 cards in total, which might be far more than you send, or far fewer. But it's still enough to force me to spend at least an hour on the annual card-signing ritual and its envelope-completing routine.
The process involves looking at the list of people I sent a card to last year, and deciding who gets one this year. Generally if I sent them one last year and they sent me one, they get another. Sometimes if I sent them one last year but they didn't send me one I still send another, but if non-delivery occurs two or three years in a row I stop. When communication's only ever annual it's hard to know whether you're sending a card to someone who's moved out, someone who's moved on or someone who simply doesn't send Christmas cards any more.
Because my list's stayed pretty static over the years, several of the addresses are peculiarly hardwired into my brain. When I start to write my aunt's envelope I know I'm going to stumble over the end of her postcode, and 6QJ gets me every time. When I start to write Robert's envelope I remember that his is the one whose postcode looks like it starts with POLO. And when I get to Jane's envelope I always remember that the diplomatic thing to do is not to write a surname because her post-divorce status has never been fully addressed.
Checking my complete Christmas card list, the counties receiving the most cards are Norfolk, Bedfordshire, London and Essex. Jobs and family explain most of those, boosted by a couple of uni friends who coincidentally ended up in the same place. The only other county getting more than one card is Suffolk. I manage one to Kent, one to Devon, one to Gloucestershire and one to Greater Manchester, but my overall geographical spread shows an appalling bias towards the southern half of the country.
As is usual these days, the stamps I stuck on the envelopes cost rather more than the cards inside. A pack of 12 second class stamps costs a smidgeon under £7 these days, whereas 40 years ago a dozen would have come in for less than a quid. No wonder so many people send e-cards or nothing these days. There again, normally when I pop round to the post office at Christmas I have to join a lengthy snaking queue of long-distance-senders and parcel-balancers, but this year I walked straight to the desk and got served straight away.
To the half dozen of you who read the blog and also get a card, watch your letterboxes. The annual ritual is ticked off for another year.