Moving Abroad: Confessions of an ex Christmas Card Writer

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There’s a jolly British tradition of passing on good tidings and Christmas cheer by sending Christmas cards to fellow men.

In reality cards are just rectangular bits of angst.  They are one of the reasons we moved abroad.

They once depicted Mary and the baby Jesus, other religious pictures or scenes of Spring, and this idea caught on, in different ways, around the world. In Australia, for example, as cards with Santa on a surfboard.

Nowadays cards are blue and brown designs for no reason or robins. They are the cards that are left in the January sales when most people buy their next year’s Christmas cards.  A bad start which only gets worse.

Greeting cards do, however, have a noble history and go way way back to the ancient Chinese who sent cards for the new year and the Egyptians who sent greetings on papyrus scrolls. In Europe hand made cards have been dated back to the 1400s. I googled and found out that the first printed Christmas card was sent in 1843 by a numptie called Henry Cole.  It’s his fault.

And once, long ago, they used to be sent to people you hadn’t seen for a while.

But these days it’s gone totally Christmas pudding. It’s not about kind thoughts any more but about Christmas card manufacturers persuading us that it’s socially abhorrent to buy or make any less than 100 cards per person every year from birth to death.

The most genius sales ploy is to pack cards into boxes of 20: 17 cards are ok, 3 are shit. No one, anywhere, likes the close-up photo of the Christmas bauble.  No matter what your personal taste in cards, 3 will always be hideous. So for every 100 cards sold that’s 15 terrible ones, which lurk at the bottom of the Christmas card box year in year out. Just in case.

I hate cards. Before my kids could even hold a pencil, I had 90 additional ones to write out to nursery or school friends, 30 per child.  I knew someone once who wrote with their opposite hand when each child was on the cusp of solo writing to pretend that they were written by the 5-year old sender. Who can get a 5 year old to sit down for 3 hours to write out 30 cards @ 10 cards an hour to the mates they’ll see tomorrow at nursery, when they could be…….doing absolutely anything else?

Yes, sorry, it was me who did the opposite hand trick.

I also had a box of cards in my desk drawer at work.  Knowing where to draw the distribution demarcation line was really difficult. That person you meet once a quarter at the coffee machine could easily surprise you with a rectangle of angst.

Hurry. There’s only one snowman left.

The writing of cards is a painful process, a sad and life-sucking process. The pressure increases as it draws nearer to last posting date which is itself a fanciful lie: if you post a card/parcel to France on 6th December, often proclaimed as the urgent, final, it’ll-arrive-next-summer-otherwise last posting date, it arrives two days later on the 8th.  This year the international deadline – Australia to the UK – was October.  That’s the summer still.

In our house, a “Christmas card night” would be set. The most dreaded night of the year in an abode of too little time and incomplete address books with lots of Ians and Iains.

Over the years, the text in our cards has generally reduced from:

To Jen, Neil, Adam, Matt and Katie. Lots of love and best wishes from Bill, Susan, Trixy, Pixy and Lixy xxx”, with a photo

Right down to:

Bill, Sue and kids”

….. scratched out in evermore pained letters as Bill and Susan’s own version of “Christmas card night” wears on. No love, no kind thoughts, just 126 to go. I am surmising that everyone suffers in the same way. A silent affliction that no one talks about and yet everyone has.

If it’s been a really really bad Chistmas Card Night, there’s just enough  willpower for:

“B S“.

From those smug few who got Christmas Card Night over with early, we might expect our first card not long after the end of the summer holidays. It’s depressing. It’s not jolly and merry. It sucks.

When 200 cards go out, approximately 200 cards will come back. If it’s 201, you have a problem and you’re racing down to the filling station on Christmas Eve for another box set of 20.

These 200 cards get put up in the house, fall over, get put up, fall over, and counted as a sure fire sign of popularity.  But it’s not, the number is directly proportionate to the horribleness of your Christmas Card Night.

Lately, there have been a few more little rebel voices speaking out. It is a dangerous thing to speak out against Christmas cards.  So dangerous that we grabbed our passports and moved to another country.

Stamped on the next Christmas card is “Bill and Sue won’t be sending Christmas cards this year. Instead they will be donating to charity.”  Phew!

I do love writing letters and sending cards to those people we haven’t seen all year. But even that is a little bit crazy when you think about it. Half of the letter gives our family news and the other half asks in eager anticipation about our friends’ lives over the year. It’s lovely to hear what everyone is up to. But alas.

She (usually the she) does the same. The carefully written card seeking news from the other, crosses in the post. By next year I’ve forgotten what I was asked, and I have more questions anyway. It’s a dumb communication arrangement.

Free range snowman.

To all our friends and family reading the blog, you won’t be getting a card. You can’t buy them in France, thankfully, hallelujah. But we send lots and lots (and lots) of love in their place. Also, if you do like Christmas cards with baubles, please let me know. I have around 600 spare.

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