Christmas is coming! Today is the shortest day of the year, the mid-winter solstice. Everything has been done to ensure that the sun comes back again. Each house is filled with lights and greenery. The tree is up and the turkey has been ordered. Neighbours call round to consume mince pies – eat one in a friend’s house for a happy month next year. Cards on red ribbon festoon the house like strings of Tibetan prayer flags.
Cards at Christmas are a good tradition, albeit a relatively new one. They only date from Victorian times – after all, they presume a postal service and high literacy rates. The first commercial Christmas cards were produced in 1846: they were condemned by temperance enthusiasts because they showed a family drinking wine.
Christmas cards perform a very different function from e-mail or Facebook: each envelope is a small gift, representing a quantifiable investment of writing time and money. Of course, card etiquette is fraught with difficulty. Is a hand-written note preferable to a round-robin letter? How many years should you continue sending if there is no reply? Why do people always send you a card the year when you finally cross them off your list? What does my choice of charitable cause say about me? (Oxfam this year: ‘caring and interesting’). But this is as naught compared with the problems of presents, especially the annual potlatch* festivities with the relatives…. Seasons Greetings! May you have a joyous and peaceful holidaytime this year.
(*Potlatch: Native American celebration where big chiefs distributed status goods; compared here with modern ritual of gift-giving involving conspicuous consumption).