‘We’ don’t really do these in Britain : and for possibly obvious reasons. The midwinter feast, which eventually morphed into the various festivals of light we call Christmas / Diwali / Hannukah etc was created
a) because it’s the darkest time of the year, and
b) it’s a good time to kill and eat animals you don’t want to have to feed all through winter, and
c) the vegetarian option : it’s near the end of the harvest, when stored crops are abundant.
It’s a time when summer seems impossible : proximity and excess have made you hate your family beyond reason: it’s getting dark at 3.30 ( I’m supporting Scottish Independence if only for this reason), and winter has only just started. Getting drunk, pigging out, having fires, and pleading with whatever Gods will listen to just make the sun come back, all seem like a good thing to do.
So, would a letter from someone you haven’t heard from all year, enumerating their various achievements and a description of their summer holiday cheer you up? No, I didn’t think so.
Maybe I, as a self-hating Brit, don’t like these because they read as boasting, and that’s just not cricket ( see next paragraph for politely understated explanation). Yes, objectively, it’s all good news about little Timmy starring in the school play, getting £200 from his dad for achieving a karate black belt, taking up a third instrument, swimming 20 lengths without armbands, etc. but its the one-sidedness of the format that gets to me : an A4 printout, in the post, in an age when digital broadcast of your most banal thoughts is a basic social requirement, doesn’t exactly invite a dialogue.
Also, while I am broadly in favour of children ( if only for the continuation of the species), I consider it bad form to go on about my own. Because I know I have produced the brightest, most beautiful, funniest, most sociable, talented, sensitive and wonderful child ever to have walked the earth, and I feel a little bit sorry for every other parent, simply because their child, while being perfectly ok ( if you like that sort of thing) isn’t as good as mine, I can be very graceful in acknowledging their children’s achievements, and don’t need to go on about it.
But maybe I am being too harsh : maybe persuading others that we are fine is never more important than when life is tough. Like a time for family togetherness and joined social celebration. I remember a card I got a year or two ago : from an Italian lady, addressed to the previous owner of the flat I bought ten years ago, and with no return address : in which it became apparent, in very few sentences, that she had just discovered that her husband had a secret child who was now three, and promising a proper letter in the new year. It never came, but I do sometimes think of that poor woman, who I never met, but who was so distraught, as to send out this cry into the void.
In my own year : I have officially achieved Mad Cat Lady status : after the kitten explosion of the summer ( at one point there were 15 of the blighters!) Mini-Mitzi has finally had her operation, and is looking a lot more playful and chirpy as a result. I am now down to six cats, which yes I am aware is 100% over the sane limit of three per household.
No really, that’s all that happened. I’m writing this in my dressing gown.