No, I am not one of those people who get grumpy, depressed or reclusive at this time of year. I love, and always have loved, Yuletide. No, I do not like to see tinsel and baubles adorning the shops in October. From 1st December, however, I light my Advent Candle bought from St Martin-in-the-Fields and, from around the 20th, I am willing to sleigh into the Christmas mood, with bells on. I put orange and clementine peel on the radiator to scent the room; I burn pine needle essential oil; and I start drinking from bone china mugs painted with Christmas scenes featuring cats. ‘tis the season to be cosy. Starbucks gingerbread latte with extra ginger, hot ale with cinnamon, cardamom and honey, fir trees with white fairy lights, if we are very lucky – snow, Bing Crosby modulating “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas...” and – last, but by no means least – the unmistakeable, moonbeam sound of King’s College Choir singing my favourite carol, Noël Nouvelet.
There it is. The sound of the sapphire skidding on the vinyl record.
During the season of love and goodwill towards our fellow creatures, few things can make you feel as un-special, as a Christmas card. Tell the truth now. How many Christmas cards do you receive, which reflect true effort – let alone care – on the part of the sender? Mostly, all you read in the card, is the one-size-fits-all platitude (such as Season’s Greetings – is the Season a person entitled to a grammatical possessive, now?). All the sender has added in his/her own handwriting, is “To (your name)” at the top of the page, and his/her signature at the bottom. It is about as personal and caring as a pair of socks that happens to have your first name initial on them. You picture the sender frantically topping and tailing dozens of such impersonal cards, doing his or her annual social duty. That’s right – you represent yet another obligation. Your friend/relative/colleague has given you a card – what else do you want from them? A personalised message?! Don’t you know how many more cards your friend/relative/colleague has to write?!
I never understand the point of giving cards to people you actually see during the Christmas season. People hand over these envelopes, sometimes saying something pedestrian, such as “Christmas card” (just in case you assumed the envelope was full of bribe money). What is exciting about people giving each other bits of paper with red-breast robins or Nativity scenes, which contain nothing noteworthy, when they could just speak the good wishes – live?
Another point of interest. I wonder that no environmentalist group – to my knowledge – has ever devised a campaign to cut down Christmas cards to safeguard trees. Just how many tons of paper are used on Christmas cards, every year? I can see some of you suppress a self-satisfied smile, and proudly announce that you use only recycled cards. Congratulations! Never mind the energy used on recycling, and the ensuing pollution – at least, you’re recycling.
How about this for a Christmas resolution. Perhaps, if we are pressed for time, we could dispatch fewer cards, but make the effort of adding a few handwritten lines to those we do send, to make the recipients feel we actually thought of them as we wrote the cards. Otherwise, there is always the perfect, tree-friendly option – the e-card. The British Library website has some wonderful ones.