It’s Christmas card season. This week there’s been a steady trickle of festive cheer landing on my doormat. Time to get the magnifying glass out and hone the detective skills in an attempt to decipher signatures written in hieroglyphics and work out who the mysterious ‘Bren and John’ might be.
The Nearly-Beloved denies all knowledge of them. ‘It’s from a couple,’ he says with the astuteness of Hercule Poirot, ‘so it’ll be one of your friends. Blokes never send cards if they can help it. And certainly not ones with cute birds on them, unless they’ve got a Santa swag bag and…’ – he grins in anticipation of his cracker joke punchline – ‘are ‘robin’ a bank.’
In my family a male reluctance for correspondence is certainly true and for years I was conned into writing all greetings to my in-laws in the false belief that my other half was dyslexic rather than just plain lazy. As for Grunting Teen, when I ask if he needs any cards to send, he looks at me in bewilderment. ‘Write? With a pen? Then post it? Are you living in the Stone Age? I’ll just send a meme round on Insta.’
Maybe this is the future now. Virtual messaging. E-cards. But for me there’s a certain thrill about opening a hand-written envelope and wondering what you’re going to find inside. I mean, let’s face it, all cards are not equal.
There’s the carefully chosen, individualised card with its heart-felt message and expensive packaging. This is usually reserved for the newly-in-love, although sometimes reappears many married-years later if it’s been discounted on Christmas Eve at the local garage.
Then there’s the ubiquitous charity box sets, favoured by the majority. These cards spread the love both to the receiver and those in need. In general, it’s best to stick with local or well-known charities to avoid eyebrows being raised at less conventional good causes, like my maiden aunt’s ‘retired jockeys’ fund’. And the rule of thumb is to err on the side of simplicity rather than sequins and sparkles, unless you are aged seven and love glitter glue.
Gone are the days when I used to force the children to make home-made disasters or try and improve their literacy by writing ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone in the class. But the bumper pack of 200 cards from Poundland 2011, gathering dust at the back of the kitchen cupboard, still comes to the rescue when the neighbour you’d completely forgotten about sneaks a last-minute yo-ho-ho to you on the day itself.
Others are better prepared. Their cards arrive promptly. Elderly relatives with time on their hands have sorted out their lists well in advance, saving a fortune by posting everything in November. Not for them the bank loan to fork out for a sheet of eye-wateringly expensive first-class stamps or the realisation they’ve missed the overseas deadline by weeks. They’ve already roped in the Scouts for local post, whilst I’m reduced to bribing Grunting Teen to do the neighbourhood rounds.
And of course, what you write is as important as the card itself. It can be the chance to catch up on a year’s worth of news from those ‘friends from the past’ that you no longer have anything in common with. At least, in that respect, Covid has been a leveller, making the smug round-robin briefings not so smug. When I learn of the safari to Namibia cancelled, cocktails at the Shard postponed and the 2nd home in Portugal unvisited, for once I feel I’ve done well. My pandemic year has still managed a weekend break in Scarbs, drinks down the Broadfield and a flying visit to my mum-in-law in Wales.
But whatever the contents, it’s just nice to be remembered. A thoughtful message can warm the heart and even just a traditional greeting and a signed name show the receiver they’re not alone or abandoned. In this year of enforced distance, a Christmas card is like a hug. Whether displayed on your mantelpiece or hung on ribbons down your walls, it’s like being surrounded by friends who’ve taken the time and effort to think of you. Who knows, you might even experience an ‘aha’ moment on Christmas Day when you realise that ‘Brian and Jean’ hadn’t forgotten you after all.