Helen Martin: Festive season’s card is marked

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I don’t know about you but when I take a week’s holiday and immediately contract some nasty bug or cold, I feel cheated. There was so much I was going to do around the house, so many preparations for Christmas that were left undone, like buying the cards for example.

For many people it’s going to be a rather austere Christmas anyway. And the more I consider the whole festive hoo-haa the more convinced I am that it is for young children and parents of young children. The rest of us just struggle to keep up the enthusiasm.

I may feel slightly more on board when the antibiotics course is completed, the tree’s up, the lights are twinkling and the presents are prettily wrapped and labelled.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. Because, like many folk, I am coming to the conclusion that Christmas is just too expensive. I don’t mean in that bus-stop conversation way when complete strangers commiserate with each other about the price of this or that. And I know some people moan about money to conceal their guilty pleasure in busting the overdraft and their complete disregard that it won’t be paid off until September, but I’m not one of them either. It really has become unaffordable.

So I am currently attempting to get Himself onside with a plan to cut out sending Christmas cards altogether. I may make one or two exceptions for folk I otherwise wouldn’t keep in touch with at all, but I fail to see the point in sending, or even handing, cards to the neighbours, people I see in the office all the time, and, to be utterly ruthless, even members of the family.

It’s not just the money, which would be better going straight to charity. It’s the guilt. We are becoming a waste-aware society. What could be more wasteful and unnecessary than all those cards, envelopes and stamps, not to mention the carbon emissions involved in manufacture and delivery? And to say what . . . “Merry 

The tree poses another dilemma. Other than the colour, what’s green about chopping down little saplings then chucking them out to be ground into sawdust or mulch? Or buying a plastic piece of fakery that may have been knocked up in a Third World sweat shop belching out greenhouse gases and shipped across the globe so I can park it in my sitting room and burn even more energy on lighting it up like a . . . Christmas tree.

But it’s the cards that really wind me up. Every morning there’s that frantic effort when the post arrives to decipher undecipherable signatures and the panic when you realise they’ve sent you one and you’ve forgotten all about them or left them off the list. The worst are those that arrive on Christmas Eve when it’s too late to do anything about it. Then there are people who assume you MUST know who they are by first name alone – as if you only know one Anne or Margaret.

For years I received loyal, affectionate, cards from someone signing themselves “Mark II”. I thought I knew who it was, but didn’t have their address anyway. Spookily, when I moved house myself, the cards followed year after year, never providing the slightest clue or tiniest bit of information. Eventually they ceased, but it remains one of the great seasonal mysteries.

There’s a lot of unseasonal one-upmanship with Christmas cards, too. Some people seriously believe their card is an extension of their taste and style, like the clothes they wear or the house they live in.

It is carefully selected at great cost and sent in a heavily embossed envelope, their signature carefully scripted in gold or silver.

If you’re really unlucky, it’s the one that unexpectedly arrives two days before Christmas when the only response you have is a free charity Robin redbreast card that came with the free Red Cross pen and labels, in the forlorn hope that you’d send a donation.

Some send massive cards that have to be folded to make it through the letter box. Others go for teeny-weeny cards in teeny-weeny envelopes that don’t fit or look right no matter where you display them, presumably because they think they are girly and sweet rather than plain irritating.

Organised families have names and addresses in one address book. We’ve been married for ten years and, having had lives before, our Christmas list is still split between my two address books, the phone book, his address book and extra info on each of our e-mail contacts. It takes us weeks to write the cards, locate each address and post them.

Then there’s the stamp, now 60p for first class and 50p for second class. That’s two shillings of a difference! I remember when a stamp was “thruppence” (I think).

Posting just two Christmas cards will cost at least a quid! By next year, who knows?

So that’s it. The cards are the first thing to go. Just the tree, the turkey and presents to go . . .