Look At Life: Christmas Cards

1st December 2017

A Christmas Conundrum: Reflecting on that Yuletide Yearning to Stay in Touch…

By Deborah Mulhearn

To send, or not to send: that is the dilemma. Should I cling to my longstanding Christmas card habit or try to kick it? After all, why go to the bother and expense when you can send a quick message or text wishing all your contacts Happy Christmas in one fell swoop?

Maybe it’s just me, but the number of red-nosed reindeers and cute robins landing (in two-dimensional form) on our December doormats seems to be dwindling. The Royal Mail and greetings card manufacturers would have us believe otherwise – allegedly we send one billion Christmas cards in the UK – but, like telephone boxes and fountain pens, paper salutations are surely an endangered species.

Sending our best wishes via social media is a bit impersonal, granted, but the technological revolution has surely resolved the dilemma. Hardly anyone under the age of 30 sends cards or cares about receiving them – and one has to assume that if people aren’t buying, signing and sending them then they don’t want to be on your list. There are also those who consider cards a criminal waste of paper and put them straight into the recycling, so that’s a misuse of time and energy on the sender’s part. And in our multi-faith society many people don’t even celebrate Christmas anyway. So my mind’s made up: this year will be the last time I send cards.

I’ll be glad I won’t have to ponder over who gets the posh arty ones and who has to make do with the scrapings from last year’s assortment box. Or run the risk of sending one of last year’s designs to the same person again; not to mention fretting over whether to cross off the list someone you haven’t heard from in a while.

But hang on, I tell myself, there are lots of reason to send cards. For a start, I really like them. They are colourful and cheery and brighten the place in the dreary depths of winter. They are a once-in-a-year notation that you are alive, hopefully well and thinking of that particular person, however fleetingly.

Think of all the artists, illustrators and printers that would go out of business, not to mention the charities that raise an estimated £50m through the sale of these seasonal missives. Maybe I just need a cull – if fewer are sent, they will be more special, surely? And it’s a shame to lose our traditions… isn’t it?

Well, like many of our traditions, Christmas cards aren’t that old. The first one was sent in 1843 by Henry Cole, founder of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Advances in printing techniques and the new penny post meant they could be made and sent cheaply, and they quickly became part of our print culture.

It’s no coincidence that Charles Dickens’ famous story, A Christmas Carol, was published the same year as the first Christmas card. Dickens had already tapped into the booming demand for reading and printed matter, as more and more of the population became literate, and cards were part of that commercialisation of Christmas. By 1877 we were sending 4.5 million of them. If the Victorians were excessive, we’re off the scale.

Enough! I’m joining the twenty-first century and converting to the one-click Christmas. And so, apart from immediate family, a diminishing band of distant and/or ageing relatives who still quaintly believe that Christmas has something to do with Christianity, and the couple of friends I rarely see but want to stay in touch with, that’s your lot.

But then I remember what Sharon Little, chief executive of the Greeting Card Association has to say about it all on the website: “It’s when the Christmas cards start arriving that we start to feel that lovely festive feeling. It’s a time of caring, keeping in touch, keeping emotionally connected with friends and family, reaching out to spread goodwill.”

Who am I to argue with Sharon? She’s a modern-day incarnation of Jacob Marley’s ghost, urging me to turn my back on my miserliness. I feel like Scrooge at the Cratchit family window.

“The Christmas cards we receive are tokens of our friendships, bringing the people we care about into the hearth and home at this special time of year,” cajoles Sharon with expert timing. Now I’m thinking about the empty doormat, my own as well as the others.

But what about the trees? Are my carefully-chosen cards (yes, even the assortment box) cherished keepsakes or barely-glanced-at recycling fodder? Help, I can’t decide. Oh Lord. Oops, I think I might have missed the last posting date....

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