Terence Blacker: Christmas cards are an empty ritual

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The Independent Online

Dear Once-a-Year Friend, I am writing to tell you of a change to our normal Christmas arrangements. This year, we (as I like to call myself on occasions like this) shall not be sending out Christmas cards to you or our other once-a-year friends.

Instead, I am sending you this column with my warmest wishes of the season to you and, if applicable, your family.

I appreciate that sending a column instead of a card is not normal festive etiquette, even by today's lax standards. Traditionally, those who are giving up the Christmas card habit at least have the grace to come up with some kind of excuse.

You will agree, I am sure, that these irritating messages, which manage to be simultaneously idle and smug, can shatter the Christmas mood for a whole day. For this reason, I shall not be telling you that the fee for this Christmas column will be donated to a Ugandan village which I like to support. Even you know me well enough not be convinced by that.

What I am proposing is simple. Sending a card once a year does not constitute true friendship. Rather as on Facebook you can be defriended, or Twitter unfollowed. So, in a Christmas sense, you should be able to be discarded without suffering any sense of personal hurt or insult.

There was a time long ago, Once-a-Year Friend, when the rhythm of everyday existence brought our lives together. We may have shared things – childhood, university, a school run, or work, perhaps even a bed – but the years have passed since then and we are different people, living different lives.

Friendship has already been devalued by the fake box-ticking version available on social media websites. For some, Christmas cards serve the same purpose – a ratings game by which people can reassure themselves of their popularity with a glance at the mantelpiece.

Let us go for a spot of unseasonal honesty. We can quietly admit that we only think of one another at this moment in the calendar, and even then without too much curiosity or warmth. Our cards to one another have been a life-support mechanism attached to something which died some time ago.

It is not a need to give to charity, a love of Planet Earth, or the soaring price of postage which has brought us to our senses but an awareness that there is more to a relationship than a card with a robin on the front.

Let us be grown-up and not wish each other a Happy Christmas this year.