Christmas cards were first introduced by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 with commercial production following some 40 years later. On average we send 17 cards each through Royal Mail, though many others are hand delivered by one colleague to another at work, a practice that I have always considered to be singularly pointless. Doubtless cards will change in substance or fall out fashion as future generations find new forms of greeting using social media. Indeed a recent Guardian article observed that: “The older generation, which traditionally would contact old friends each year, is being put off by the new postage costs. The younger generation, which does everything online, isn’t interested in physically sending a card. It’s a real problem for the sector.” However there are little signs that the practice of sending cards is in irreversible decline as the overall level of card sales has stayed at a plateau.
However, one practice that I would like to see totally disappear is the self-congratulatory Christmas update. This is the narrative, enclosed with the card, where the sender finds it necessary to inform others of the impressive year they have enjoyed and the way that their children and grandchildren are moving at a remarkable pace from one success to another. No-one draws attention to the inevitable disappointments and failures that occur in most families and the message is grossly insensitive to the position of the recipient.
The worst I can remember was the annual update from a Clergyman who should have known better. He had one super-intelligent child (and three others who were scarcely mentioned). One year we were informed that they had been worried about the prodigy since he was doing so many extra-mural activities and his conditional offer of an Oxford place demanded exceptionally high grades. However, we were informed, ‘we need not have worried since he passed through the barrier with ease’. Doubtless this would be a source of inspiration to all those who had bred less able offspring.
I seem to have received fewer of these letters with my cards this Christmas. This may be because, at my age, we spend more time worrying about our encroaching ailments and don’t particularly want to share this with others. Whatever the reason I can’t say I miss these unwelcome enclosures