I like you, but not enough to spend 50p on you – 36p yes, 50p no

The Christmas card may not have realised it yet, but it is dead. Well, dying. Let’s just say it is drifting in and out of consciousness while muttering incomprehensibly to itself.
The main reason, this year at least, is the dramatic increase in the price of second-class stamps, from 36p to 50p. The average number of cards sent per person is expected to fall by a quarter as a direct consequence. I like you, but not enough to spend 50p on you – 36p, yes, 50p, no. There are ways around stamps, of course. I heard of a gathering the other day at which half the guests brought along Christmas cards to hand deliver, while the other half looked on in slight disapproval, as if this wasn’t really playing the game.
But Christmas cards were on their last legs even before this recent price hike. My wife and I stopped sending them four years ago. I would like to pretend that it was for environmental reasons, saving trees and so on. But we don’t send them electronically either, as that seems even more pointless. No, I think we stopped as much as anything out of… I was going to say laziness but that isn’t quite it either. It was more the whole thought of sending out cards induced ennui. It seemed to have become a depressing and hollow ritual born of obligation rather than pleasure – an extra layer of hassle at an already busy time of year.
Liberating though it felt at first, the problem with stopping unilaterally soon becomes apparent: other people don’t stop. So the weariness we felt about sending them was duly replaced by feelings of guilt at receiving them. We still have to fight an irrational urge to send out Christmas cards explaining that we no longer send out Christmas cards.
But there is relief in not sending them, too. There is no more of that business of having to write “and family” because you can’t remember the names of your friends’ children. What we often get is “and the boys” because we have three of them and no girls – a fact which people can remember, even when the individual names escape them.
The alternative, I suppose, is to write a forgotten name illegibly, making it seem as if bad handwriting rather than indifference is the problem, but the trouble with that is you have to be consistent and write your own name illegibly as well, and then the recipient doesn’t know who sent the card.
Another way in which giving and receiving cards makes you feel worse, not better, is when you get that message from an old friend which reads: “We really must make an effort to meet up next year!!!” Both sides know it isn’t going to happen and when you have sent and received the same message five years in a row the combination of embarrassment, self loathing and mutual guilt becomes almost unbearable.
We got one this year which got around that problem rather wittily. “Haven’t seen you for far too long – have you tried to ditch us?!! It won’t work!! Let’s meet up soon x”
Then there is the minefield about whether or not to include a line or two of family news. Facebook is actually a much better way of keeping in touch because you can acknowledge that your cousin has got engaged by “liking” their status update on the subject. Although it goes out to their 900 other “friends” as well, it feels more personal than the sort of circular “what we did this year” letter which was so gloriously traduced in Roger Lewis’s book Seasonal Suicide Notes.
Occasionally, you will open a Christmas card shaped envelope and laugh. I got one this year which shows in silhouette an obviously pregnant Virgin Mary on a donkey being led by Joseph. The speech bubble coming from her mouth says: “You still don’t believe me, do you?” And the one coming from his says: “Nope.”
It was almost a relief when the norovirus finally arrived at our house on Friday, laying everyone low with impressive speed. As Derek Zoolander might say, the norovirus is so hot right now, and if you haven’t had it you feel out of the loop, passed over, slightly irrelevant.