Today was supposed to be the busiest day of the year for Royal Mail. They were expecting to handle 10 million items, apparently, although who counts them all is anyone’s guess. I expect most of those items will be Christmas cards from people rushing to beat last posting dates this week.I have written 56 cards so far this year. They’ve now all been sent or given, but I’ve made sure I’ve kept some in reserve for last minute emergencies. I’ll bet, for instance, that the garden care people or Steve who picks up my husband’s shirts for ironing every other week will give me a card at the last minute. I’ll have to scribble one frantically to them. Because it doesn’t do to receive and not to give does it?

It’s all so unpredictable though. Every year, we draw up a list. If we’re organised, we’ll have updated last years’s list with all the changes of address and marital status. Often, though, we’ll have to email people to ask their address so we can send them a card, which is embarrassing.

There’ll be friends who have split up or remarried and changed their surnames. There are people whose surnames we have never known but who live with people we do know. What do we do about addressing their cards? I mean, if someone is married I can write the card to Mr and Mrs Traditional, or even Mr and Mrs (or Dr, or Ms) Modern-Equalityminded. But what about unmarried couples? Is it Mr Freethinker and Ms Marriageoppresseswomen, or simply Priya and Tristan, for example? That just looks odd. And then what about our gay friends? Is that Mr Outandproud and Mr Quiteconventionalreally or just Gareth and Tim? Or Debs and Cheryl? Who knows? We could ask them how they prefer to be addressed, but that’s a squirmy moment, isn’t it?

Then there is the question of whom we actually send them to. Friends and relations who live abroad: check. People we think of a lot who Iive abroad, such as my children’s music teachers in their formative years? Well, we send them, but they live in France, where there is no real tradition of Christmas cards, so we never receive them in return. There’s no feedback. I still always put a little note in the card, detailing the children’s progress and thanking them for inspiring them in their appreciation of music and hard work. Every year. Music teachers like that. And bottles of good wine, I’ve found.

How about the friends with whom we have no contact except for the annual Christmas card? If we decide once and for all that the relationship no longer exists, that everyone has moved on, that we no longer need to exchange Christmas cards with a non-committal snowy countryside scene and a signature, you can guarantee that the ex-friend will choose this year to rekindle the relationship and send a card and we will be left in the wrong.

Then there are those people to whom I send a card every year but from whom we never receive one. Should we just give up now? This has happened with lots of our friends, as we have grown up and moved apart. The Leicester Square group hugs after the Saturday meals have turned from “Love from J,” through “Love and hugs, J and B,” to “From J and B and C and E plus dog,” and then on to silence. The saddest news so far this Christmas is that one such group-hugger has only a matter of days to live. Pete, Uncle Pete, if you ever see this, we have so many memories of you. We are so sorry that you have had to suffer like this. X

Now, Darling Daughter recently moved to secondary school, and she’s the only one from her school to move there. So there is no longer any need for the ostentatious exchange (or equally ostentatious absence thereof) of Christmas cards at the school gate or carol service. But what about the families of her newly cooking friendships? We want to make a good, lasting impression with them, don’t we? *Writes card. Dithers about sending it. Misses last posting date. Regrets embarrassment with family of child’s new friend* And how about the families of friends of children who are no longer really close or, worse, no longer speaking to us? Do we risk inflaming them by sending a card?

I am, however, glad of this chance to reassess my Christmas list. Imagine my utter glee at crossing off those people who have complained at having to “sit through,” my child’s beautiful rendition of Mozart’s clarinet concerto, or moaned when she walked away with three prizes at Prizegiving. Oh yes! I’ve gone right through the paper, crossing them vehemently off the list. Thank goodness I don’t have to waste any more of my smiles on these people. Revenge is sweet.

And then there are people who share activities from week to week. I was pleased to see that my husband exchanged cards with some members of his wind band, but dismayed as members of my choir actually passed around scores of Christmas cards, some directly across me, to each other at our final rehearsal of the year. Don’t they like me? Do they disapprove of my witty quips? Or do they think that I don’t celebrate Christmas? I am brown, after all. And have a funny name. Perhaps they are frightened that I’ll be offended if they give me a card? Yes. That must be it. Or is it just that in previous years I have never been organised enough to write our Christmas cards before the final rehearsal so they’re not expecting one from me? Perhaps they just don’t like me. Pfft.

What about corporate Christmas cards, from a restaurant we might have been to once? No. Don’t think I have to return them. But it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? And when I worked, where each worker in one company would send a simply signed Christmas card to each member of another, corresponding, organisation. What a waste of trees! Happily lots of companies now opt for a charity donation instead, after all, writing cards is time-consuming, isn’t it, and does it really keep contacts well-lubricated or is an impersonal card just insulting?

And then there’s the message on the card. I’ve always tried to buy charity cards, thinking that some good cause might as well profit from this paper mania. But do I buy religious ones? As an atheist, isn’t that hypocritical? But many friends do have Christian faith to a greater or lesser extent, so surely they should have Christmas cards that actually relate to Christmas? (I was amazed, by the way, that my husband’s aunt sent us a pagan Yuletide card with the Green Man in the front this year!) I loathe the phrase “Season’s Greetings” I mean, how detached from the Christmas spirit is it possible to get? Why bother sending a card at all in that case? Ugh.

As A-B-C once memorably wrote, “I don’t know the answer to these questions; if I knew I would tell you.” Yes, it’s a minefield, and yes, I know I’m probably over-thinking this as usual. Perhaps the worries are about peripheral people. In fact, the cards (or e-cards) from people, to people, who really matter are the ones that sit reliably on the mantelpiece, on the piano, in the computer inbox every year.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a peaceful/happy/healthy New Year/2012.

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