Welcome to the December Holiday instalment of my seemingly endless musings on What I Miss. About how ’twas.
As every man, woman and child on the planet has been been reminded by looped Christmas carol compilations in shops and restaurants since October, ‘tis the season to be jolly.
What My New Old Self misses when December rolls around is this: ‘Twas once the season to be writing. But alas, that old habit, the annual Xmas letter, is no more.
Please note that it is not by chance that I’m spelling Christmas this way. It seems a more accurate way of characterising the holiday. Xmas with an X has little to do with religion, but simply coincides with the end of the year. Whatever one’s creed, the month of December tends to be a suitable time to reflect and get some perspective. And to reach out – to use that annoying new euphemism for communicating – to others.
This is why I used to enjoy writing my Xmas letter. It was a scheduled annual opportunity to assess the year gone by and be in touch with friends and family.
I used to try and sit down in early December to consider which highlights I should share about how my loved ones and I had spent the past year. My musings would end up on paper, as a page tucked into an Xmas card – remember those?
I had to backtime the whole operation because I was using what we now call snailmail. Not to be confused with that communications game-changer, email (more on which below). My cards and letters had to be dispatched early enough to travel not only through my land, but across the sea as well – if they were to be gracing mantelpieces around the country and the world by mid December.
I used to look out for the announcement of the last posting date for guaranteed pre-December 25th delivery. I was guided by that deadline for licking and sticking stamps.
My What I Miss list even includes standing in linen at the post office.
Not that I love queuing but there was something satisfying about clutching a pile of envelopes, knowing how diligently I had performed all the tasks that would culminate in my cards and letters arriving on time.
Of course, the demise of letter-writing is linked to the international rise of email. It was well after the turn of the century that I switched from snailmailing letters to emailing bytes each December. I guess because I was younger then, I don’t remember ruing the day that my paper cards and letters gave way to emails.
I welcomed the extension of my annual deadline, for I could now write my letters in the last days of the year. Since paper was no longer involved, I just typed and pressed Send. Some years I would even lose the Xmas angle totally and just call it my end-of-year letter. I once pressed Send on New Year’s Eve.
I never became a convert to the digital version of holiday greeting cards, for the core of What I Miss is the writing. Whether mailed by post or electronically, come December I was always at a keyboard summing up my reflections on the year.
Why has this cherished activity now appeared on my What I Miss list? What’s stopping me from continuing this noble tradition? After all, I still get one card every December in my underused mailbox at the gate, from my 90-year-old aunt.
I blame Facebook. I felt I finally had to concede that today’s expectation is that the news flashes of our lives are released as they happen, in short Facebook posts. Who has time to sit down and read an overview of my year’s top events? Busy people would rather receive friends’ Breaking News throughout the year, in easily digestible bites that can be read on their phones in the supermarket checkout. So the whole sense of telling a tale chronologically, from how I launched into the year through my activities each season – it’s like so 20th century.
The internet has trained us to consume discrete incidents and episodes, not a continuous thread. In reverse chronological order. Starting with now, then most recent, to past, to ancient. Ancient being about 3 months ago. We are pressurised to continuously update our evolving histories. There should be no long gaps where nothing cool or jealousy-inducing is seen to be happening in our lives for our Facebook friends to see.
If I were to write an end-of-year letter and post it on Facebook, I would have to worry about getting that dreaded internet abbreviation of rejection: TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read). Or – even worse – not getting many Likes.