It struck me this year, whilst listening to my parents’ indecisions and bickering about their Christmas card list, what a terribly complicated business it all is.
Should they send one to the Wilkinsons, who they used to be fairly close to, but now find irritating with their pompous reports of how fantastically their children are getting on at Oxford, Cambridge and wherever else? Perhaps this is finally the year to cross them off the list.
Is it worth continuing to send one to their old university friends Joyce and Pete, even though they haven’t received one from them for two years running? They decided last year that they would stop sending one to the Robertsons, their old neighbours who are really quite unpleasant and it is likely that they won’t see very often.
This all seems well and good until a card is received, unexpected, delivering bad news about Nick Robertson’s health. A dilemma is introduced: should they send one, despite the fact that it is exceedingly close to Christmas day, which reveals that this Christmas card was an afterthought? Would it be best to acknowledge the bad news about Nick’s health, or pretend that they had sent the card prior to receiving this information, and hope that the Robertsons assume that it got delayed in the post?
To me, it seems like an absolute palava. The hidden politics within Christmas cards are strenuously complicated. A way to keep in touch, once a year, with old friends and family, is of course a lovely gesture in the festive season. But I know that in our household, every year it is a stressful procedure. And not only that, these days it is also a rather expensive procedure, tradition or no tradition. With the costs of the cards themselves, stamps, envelopes, and any other extras such as photos or yearly life updates, the kind gesture can become quite a pricey one as well as environmentally unfriendly.
Some people have given up the custom altogether, preferring instead to send cards online, or announce in the previous year’s set of cards that they will be stopping them next year in favour of donating money to charity.
Personally, I don’t ‘do’ Christmas cards. They would sometimes be given out at school, with the inevitable awkward moment occurring when you receive one from somebody that you evidently had NOT written one for. Oh yes, Christmas card politics still linger within the younger community.
However I suspect that by the time our generation become our parents’ generation, Christmas cards will have somewhat died a death. Instead, a simple Facebook message will suffice, or alternatively a text message sent to the entire phonebook, to remind people that you still acknowledge their existence.
However, this does not necessarily solve the political problems of a simple well wishing message – birthdays can be known to arouse questions of social etiquette; for instance, if a Facebook friend forgets yours, should you still send them a message? Or resolutely refuse to acknowledge theirs and play them at their own game? To be honest though, what’s the harm? It’s certainly far easier, cheaper and less time consuming than the endless struggle that our poor, long suffering parents go through with Christmas cards, eh?