CARD SHARP: in the century of social media, is the Christmas Card dead?
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times: the age of Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, of instant cyber-communication and disconnected human connections. And at this time of year, you’d expect that to be more obvious than ever. However, independent research commissioned by Royal Mail consistently finds that the majority (89% last year) of people would prefer to receive a traditional card, with a mere handful preferring their festive greeting electronically. Certainly there seems to be no shortage of Christmas cards dropping through my door…
and they seem to have been on sale since midsummer. Indeed, the wise sender of such things takes the opportunity of picking up a few packs in the January sales and stores them for the next eleven months. It’s a cunning plan, that also reduces the agony of decision-making because there are, then, fewer to choose from. Come the autumn, with the wealth of choice available, it’s always a challenge to pick exactly the right one. I like to send a charity card (seems rude not to) but how do you decide which good cause to favour, if there isn’t one that, for some personal reason, has an over-riding claim? It seems so uncharitable to favour one over the other: Water Aid versus Crisis at Christmas, Cancer Research versus Macmillan Nurses versus Help The Hospices. And if I choose those generic cards that help 43 different charities will 1/43 of the token pence distributed make any difference to their funds, or will it all be eaten up in admin?
In a frenzy of indecision, I often revert to choosing by picture. And another dilemma presents itself at once. Christmas is, after all, a religious festival; it seems incongruous to make not even a token recognition of this, but the conventions and courtesies are tricky to navigate. Is it right or wrong to send a religious card if you are a] not religious, b] sending to a non-religious recipient or c] both?
Cards depicting the nativity scene seem, in any case, to be increasingly difficult to find; those that exist are either dark and ugly, or cartoon-like and totally unrealistic. Infants that couldn’t possibly be under nine months old, possessing luxuriant curls and probably a full set of teeth, recline in Ikea-style cribs on golden straw. This amazingly comfortable manger is usually surrounded by a beautiful group of animals… all sporting long, curled eyelashes and immaculately coiffed manes and tails.
There’s usually an alternative, and rather sterner version, as unfestive as it comes. A stable is no place to give birth, certainly, but is it really necessary to obliterate all sense of joy? Mary often appears thoroughly browbeaten, and a quick glance at Joseph explains why. Not too convinced, says Joseph’s expression, about your story of an angel and an immaculate conception.
Buying and receiving are different things though. Cards I would never send include the (amusing?) mouse wearing a paper hat and languishing drunkenly in a brandy goblet. It isn’t that it is unrealistic (although it is; even though most paper hats are too small for me, I have yet to find one small enough to fit a mouse). It’s more that it has nothing to do with the season. If there are mice that get drunk and dress up to do so, then they probably do it all year around. A sprig of holly sometimes informs us that this is the Christmas Party Mouse as opposed to the House-warming Rodent or the Graduation Glis Glis, but it isn’t enough. It neither makes me smile nor think a single Christmassy thought.
And I can’t bear cute, either, which leads me to my second most disliked card: sweet (?) round-faced kids with cute kittens and cute puppies. More grotesque than charming, and, even with the inclusion of the infant Jesus (dolled up in a Mabel Lucie Atwell outfit), as unseasonal as the alcoholic mouse.
I’d reject both of these to buy – though if they turned up on my doormat I’d probably smile and think fondly of the person who’d sent them. I’d rather have stars, or bright lights, or some crisp seasonal scene (the sort I generally send, actually, reeking of hope without actually coming out and saying so), but frankly, any evidence of someone loving me enough to choose, buy, write, sign and send a card is enough. Who cares what it looks like?
Can I use this column to wish all my friends and family a Happy Christmas? Probably not the done thing.