The Christmas round-robin has had a bit of a bad press in the past. For a while, back in the day, the practice of sending out a uniform letter with Christmas cards really took off. A letter which included a summary of family achievements from the outgoing year; a way of catching up with friends and family you rarely saw. It sounds like a great idea and may well have been much appreciated by the recipients.
But over time, our perception of the round-robin has changed somewhat. It was safe to assume that lots of other people were receiving the same letter so the personal element wasn't there. There was also a lot of debate around the content of the letter as the information within morphed into an homage to the achievements of the whole family:
The promotions at work
The high achieving children
The move to a luxurious new property
The lavish holidays to far flung corners of the globe
Even the dog might get a mention
There's nothing wrong with being proud of your achievements but a personalised letter could be more sensitive to the circumstances of the recipient, who may have none of the above. Did recipients feel a bit intimidated reading such a letter or did they just assume it had been embroidered and have a laugh about it? I often wonder whether round-robins were sent which detailed all the disasters and things that generally had gone wrong in the year? I suspect not, or certainly not as many.
Still I'm sure that round robins were enjoyed by many people.
My thoughts on round-robins were triggered by a FaceBook post that I saw recently which included an image of a transcibed letter sent in 1878 from a man Cornwall to his brother in America. Emigration from Cornwall to other parts of the world is a major part of Cornish history, and very often associated with the mining industry.
I found the letter quite moving. It was clear that they hadn't corresponded for a long time, in fact several years, not unusual in the days before the digital communication that we all now take for granted. The brother in Cornwall had to pass on the news that both of their parents had died, as well as an aunt and uncle. Further information was shared about some of their siblings who had married and moved away, at least one of whom he had not heard from in many years.
He gave a description of his own family which, at the time of writing, numbered eight living, six girls and two boys. You can almost feel the pride in his voice when he talks about their marriages but doesn't flinch from relating that one couple were now into ' very bad circumstances'.
He also talks about wage rates and the cost of different items of food. The letter ends with an invitation that, should the brother ever return to England, 'my humble cottage will be always open to receive you'.
It's difficult to imagine now how familial relationships were maintained, and thrived, with neither an efficient postal system nor modern technology.