I've had a serious mental block this year over writing my Christmas cards. I really got going only on the 10th December, when I bought 60 charity cards and 48 stamps. I was taken aback by how much that cost. £21.01 for the cards (well, I admit that wasn't too much per card) and £26.40 for the stamps (which was outrageous, considering they were all second-class stamps). Nearly £50, anyway. And the 48 stamps had cost more than the 60 cards! Something not right about that, surely?
At any rate, I was all set. It just needed the preparation of a list, and then a couple of days' effort. But in fact it took me another four days to write the first card - for Emma, who was visiting me for lunch, and might as well have a card to take home with her. So she started me off. But until then it had been a job I simply couldn't face doing. Even though I most certainly did want to send cards to some people, in a spirit that went far beyond mere duty or common convention. But that positive wish wasn't enough to overcome the block. It took Emma's visit to relax my paralysis.
That was on the 14th. It's now the 18th. I have written 49 cards and used 34 stamps. 15 of the cards could be handed over personally, or at least delivered to the doorstep by myself, and didn't need to be posted. Four people couldn't be sent a card, and would need emails instead: a job for the next two days. And I promised a letter after Christmas to a family member. Apart from the emails and that promised letter, it's job done.
This year, for the first time, I created a colour-coded spreadsheet for the task, listing names, locations, who was to get a card and who an email, and if a card the mode of delivery, and hence how many stamps were actually needed. As I proceeded, I filled in the dates of writing, posting, or giving personally. Here's the top section of my list as it stands tonight, to give an idea of its layout:
I had family, friends, and neighbours on my list, plus a few others such as my cleaner and hair stylist. Next year I will simply use the 2016 spreadsheet as the basis for 2017, which will save time and give me a flying start.
One thing I liked about using a spreadsheet was the way it was possible to show the full extent of the job on the screen, without much scrolling, which somehow made it less daunting. The multiple paper sheets I laboriously wrote out in past years tended to exaggerate the size of the task - I do have rather large handwriting.
One thing that struck me above all else was how friends, neighbours and personal service professionals so greatly outnumbered my family: by three to one. Was that unusual, or fairly normal?
And other things. Such as most people I knew being in a relationship - not necessarily married, but at least with someone (or yearning to be with someone), rather than being solitary. And many having children, grown up or otherwise. In neither respect was I like that. I wouldn't be unique, but I must seem quite odd to most other people.
The sending of Christmas cards is in theory perfectly reciprocal, but this year I have definitely sent more than I am likely to receive. So far 23 cards have arrived for me. I expect this total to rise to 30 or so, which is well short of the 49 cards (plus four emails) I have sent, or will send.
Undoubtedly the cost of postage is a big factor here. First class stamps cost 64p each, and second class stamps 55p each. These are not negligible prices. In recent years I have wondered whether ultimately the custom of sending Christmas cards will die out, having become way too expensive. Or be confined to special cards that are personally given to local friends and close family, with no postage involved. It's hard to say. Customs generally die hard. And Christmas would definitely seem lacking without some cards up on the old mantlepiece!