Friday, 8 December 2017

A Christmas ritual ends

This morning I felt like crying. All the pre-Christmas meetups and meals and drinks - and they have come with a rush in the last week - have left me feeling tired and distracted. I haven't been able to concentrate on doing the things that must be done for Christmas. Suddenly it seems all too much. Way too much. And consequently I'm emotional.

In my immediate family, we long ago decided to stop giving each other Christmas presents. We all had everything we could possibly want: buying token presents that weren't genuinely wanted seemed a dreadful waste of money and effort. Once Mum and Dad were too old to face the crowded shops, they were easily persuaded that the annual ritual should come to an end. But we continued to send Christmas cards to each other, though I was never quite sure why. Perhaps we felt it was a step too far to put a stop on cards as well, as if this would somehow damage 'the meaning of Christmas'.

Well, let's look at that meaning. What would not sending a card threaten?

If I were religious, and specifically a Christian, then indeed Christmas would have profound meaning. But I am very secular. Christmas has no spiritual significance for me. That's true even of alternative 'Winter beliefs', whether ancient or modern.

What about Christmas being the time for family unity and togetherness? But my family has vanished, death taking everyone except myself. I have no grandparent, parent, sibling, child or grandchild to send my best wishes to. There are some remoter family members, but basically I am on my own.

What about friends? Ah, I do have those, and cherish them as I would a family. But then I see them (or hear from them) throughout the year, and in some cases every couple of days: we keep in touch, and sending a Christmas card would add nothing to the sense of togetherness.

All considered, there isn't much reason - beyond custom and expectation - to send a Christmas card to anyone I know.

There are reasons not to.

Chief among these must be the frivolous use of high-quality paper. For most of my life, I've been troubled by the daily production of paper goods, and its toll on the forests of the world. I don't so much mind paper books that will be kept, and read again and again. Nor brochures and pamphlets, which may have an ongoing informational purpose. But newspapers, magazines and greetings cards all seem an outrageous use of timber. I'd much rather go paperless, and view such things on a screen.

I am also concerned that the Royal Mail has to use its expensive resources delivering a vast mountain of Christmas cards, which choke up the ordinary postal service and prevent more important stuff getting delivered on time. I'd rather not add to their difficulties.

Then what about the poor bin men in January, dealing with heavy refuse bins full of junked Christmas cards? For, of course, most of the cards sent will never be retained.

I may sound coldly rational, but for me the time has definitely now come to stop sending Christmas cards. I've made a mental shift. I'm stepping aside from convention, and distancing myself from a social ritual that is hard to find the time for, and seems to accomplish nothing much for all the effort expended.

And yet, having decided this, my first impulse was to send something else - an email, perhaps. If only to give notice that henceforth I would not be sending cards. I began to write a standard email for the purpose. It would be illustrated with photos of my successes during 2017. But then I realised that every email I sent would need to be personalised. This would certainly take more time than writing a card would.

In any case, not every recipient would enjoy having an electronic message, whatever the content. Some people would feel cheaply fobbed off. And what about those who, even now in 2017, hadn't got themselves familiar with doing things online? They'd need a handwritten or typed letter in a stamped and addressed envelope...

In the end, I've decided to quietly NOT send any cards, or emails, or anything else. No explanations, no justifications. I will be silent. 

I will of course acknowledge any cards I receive with an email, as good manners dictate. (Half a dozen of those already, and I've emailed back in response)

I wonder if anyone will notice that they haven't got a card from me? If they do, and we haven't been in touch for some time, then perhaps I will get an anxious email on the lines of 'You didn't send a card - are you all right?' We can then have an exchange. Otherwise, it will be normal contact after the New Year, as the occasion arises. I can't really see anybody being offended, or slighted, or put out in any way by my not sending them a Christmas card. Secretly, they might even be pleased, the annual ritual having been broken by someone, setting a precedent that they can follow.

I definitely won't be the first person to have abandoned this task. People who go abroad at Christmas will have been saying 'We won't be here to see any cards send to us, and as we need the time for packing and seeing people before we go, we aren't writing any'. If it's reasonable to escape on holiday and avoid all the Christmas kerfuffle, then I don't see what's wrong with staying at home and avoiding the same.

If everyone does this, then of course the custom of sending Christmas cards will die out. But I don't see that as a great tragedy. It will simply restore the position that prevailed before an affordable postal system was established in the nineteenth century - typified oddly enough by the snowy Regency scenes so often shown on traditional Christmas cards. In those days there was an emphasis on very local face-to-face greetings, and the provision of practical things like food and drink and entertainments. I'm OK with that!

Ah, I feel a lot more cheerful now. No more tears. I can get on with other things.

Naturally, I feel that I have committed a social faux pas here. There will be raised eyebrows. There may even be howls of protest, about my undermining all that Christmas stands for (whatever that might be). Well, I'll just have to take any consequences.

I felt just as 'guilty' when I unplugged my landline handset five years ago (see my post Under Siege on 6th December 2012) to eliminate unwanted calls, and thenceforth intended to rely solely on my mobile phone. It felt as if I was deliberately cutting myself off from a lot of people who would be happier speaking to me on my landline. But it worked out beautifully. Perhaps the odd person was irritated by the change, but if so, I never heard them say so. Even in 2012, using a mobile phone on 3G was by far the better option if anxious to check who was calling before answering, or needing to block calls. It was a step forward. So I'm sure I will in time come to see this switch from cards to emails at Christmas as simply a sensible advance.


  1. Relax Lucy. All the Christmas nonsense can get overwhelming, I have not got any to send and the numbers sent have declined rapidly each year. What I always hated was receiving a card with nothing but a vague signature with a common name, (which John is this?).

    We returned from our holiday trip not having sent a single postcard this year, relative postal costs have soared and so few cards on offer. something else which could not stand the competition of the mobile...

    Enjoy your meal with friends, that is all that I enjoy at Christmas.

  2. Thank you, Coline!

    The decision to stop the show had been taken, but I had been feeling super-guilty about it. Illogical, because although I'd sent fifty-odd cards last year, I'd received only thirty or so. So plenty of my acquaintance had already opted out of this largely unnecessary mass-frenzy of keeping in touch with pretty bits of paper.

    I really think all that energy could be better employed at Christmastime!



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