Head to head: Give over

Do you buy Christmas cards and presents? Virginia Bottomley relieves stress by wrapping up gifts, while Cynthia Payne has more faith in other methods

Pro-present and card giving

"Christmas is a very special time. It's a celebration with a spiritual dimension. For me, the message is about giving and sharing. When it comes to sending cards I try and remember people whose paths I've crossed over the years and especially those whom I remember with gratitude and affection. It's too easy to let contact just pass.

I always choose House of Commons cards, not because they're cheaper but because in these days when people seem to be seeking to denigrate Parliament I have a strong sense of pride in being an MP. And I think people like to receive them.

Of course, charity Christmas cards are for really good causes and this has always been a source of anxiety for me. If it wasn't for the House of Commons cards I'd definitely buy them. I like cards with a religious significance and this year the House of Commons cards have an attractive religious design, so they're doubly good.

I do like giving and receiving presents. I don't think it's a matter of how much money you spend. I buy them through the year and wrap them up during times of stress. I've already wrapped 70 this year. One year I bought all my family bird tables. Another year I bought them all hockey sticks. I like to get cards and flowers.

We always have lots of nice parties where everyone really enjoys themselves. Often we'll invite people who are lonely or people who've touched us during the year."

Virginia Bottomley is MP for South-West Surrey and was Secretary of State for Health in the last Conservative government

Anti-present and card giving

"I don't get too excited about Christmas. This year, I'll probably be with friends watching telly and eating turkey, like most people. For me, the religion is not important. The last time I went to church was in 1983 because there wasn't much on the telly.

I don't bother with cards and presents. I packed it in when I was 30 when I started giving the parties. I put so much energy in them that I couldn't be bothered with all the other stuff.

But even before then, I wasn't into cards and presents. You spend all that time and money looking for presents and no one really appreciates it. People end up getting things they don't even want. I still get my grandchildren presents. When they were growing up I'd go into Oxfam and make a stocking up. To be honest I give them money these days. They say they prefer it.

But then Christmas isn't as much fun as it used to be. And this is my coming-down month because it's so dark. And it's the anniversary of the first time I was raided [6 December 1978].

I used to put loads of effort into my parties and make sure all the men enjoyed themselves. I can't do them any more. I go to other people's parties, but they're not the same. My parties were wonderful. I can still see the police bursting in like the Keystone Cops. They ruined it. Christmas hasn't been the same since."

In 1980, Cynthia Payne, was jailed for six months and fined pounds 4,000 for running a brothel

Interviews by Michael Day

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