Tuesday 17 September 2019

The death of this Christmas tradition is card to take


The old reliable - 'Santa stuck down the chimney' card
The old reliable - 'Santa stuck down the chimney' card
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

It's about making the time and this weekend, I plan to plonk myself on the couch, put on a good Christmas movie (it's usually The Holiday which I still love 12 years later) and write my Christmas cards.

There are several festive traditions I'm lukewarm about but this year, but I really want to return to sending out cards to friends and family around the world. I've been thinking of them so why not tell them. The ones at home will have to make do with a glass of Christmas cheer chez Power.

It's funny how the once essential Christmas tradition of sending and receiving cards has waned so dramatically. There was a time when, apart from the Christmas tree and the ubiquitous string of tinsel around the mirror in the front room, incoming Christmas cards were the backbone of festive decorating in our homes in years gone by.

Remember how they were meticulously arranged and, in some houses, a sign of true diversity - the religious cards mixed in with glittery 'Santa stuck in the chimney' ones, while the small funny cards with dogs and cats dressed up in red hats ended up on the piano beside the poinsettia.

In our house, they were festooned across the wallpaper like exhibits from MoMA or strung out like bunting on Granny's knitting wool from each corner, converging in the centre of the room on the three-armed central light. And now they're gone.

Do you remember the gasps of frustration when someone left the front and back doors open and it created a wind tunnel so when someone opened the sitting-room door, the cards would all swoosh down - all except the posh foil ones sent by the cousins in America which took pride of place over the clock?

Whatever happened to this tradition of writing to friends and relatives and keeping up contact with former neighbours and childhood acquaintances?

Ah yes, it's called emails and social media, but sometimes a charity card depicting a beautiful stained glass window by Dubliner Harry Clarke is just the thing to stop you in your tracks and create a moment of mindfulness in the madness that is Christmas shopping.

I've a horrible habit of buying and writing cards, but they don't all make it to the post box because I'm missing part of an address or a postcode. Or if you are being very careful, you need to make sure the couple are still together because you haven't seen them for 20 years.

One year, I made the mistake of ascribing the wrong children to a cherished childhood friend. I don't think she was impressed by the card and I was mortified.

Nowadays, the headache is trying to find up-to-date addresses. They used to be on the tops of letters and cards but they haven't segued on to emails, so you have to email the person for their address and that takes the whole element of surprise out of it all.

Are Christmas cards a luxury now or an important thread to stay in touch with people who may be in the rear-view mirror of our lives but once meant a lot to us?

And if you find yourself being surprised by the cost, should you prune your lists? And don't you just know that after pruning it down to 'relevant notables', you'll always get caught out and receive a gorgeous thoughtful card from someone you culled!

A bit of nostalgia is good in my book, but I've no intention of getting maudlin or overly sentimental about friendships separated by oceans and there will be no newsletter-style 'Round Robins' printed up. My personal misfortunes were once included in someone else's Round Robin and ever since, I've disliked them as much as I dislike thick almond paste on the Christmas cake.

The purpose of sending cards is not to be boastful, but to contact people whose relationship you value. I won't infuse mine with cinnamon and pine, dust them with glitter and avoid using words like 'merry' or 'holidays'. I plan to keep the message short and I might include a photo or two.

I may not get to see the recipients in 2019 but I'm thinking of them in 2018. And best of all, sending Christmas cards is a great excuse to go into The Pen Shop and buy a new Lame fountain pen with italic nib. Anything to make my illegible midlife writing look legible.

Irish Independent

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