Brian Viner: Argh! It's Christmas card time again

If a card is all that’s keeping you in touch, at least use it to say something

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December is not yet a week old and already we have had 14 Christmas cards. Who are these people? Actually, I know who they are. They're friends with much more organised lives than ours, and we regard them with admiration and envy but also a dash of resentment, for reminding us that the tyranny of the Christmas card list is nigh.

My youngest son is playing Scrooge in his primary school production of A Christmas Carol the week after next, and it may well be that I recognise a chip off the old block: I hate the whole pantomime of sending Christmas cards, and I'm not much better at receiving them, although I admit to taking a small perverse pleasure in judging the sender.

The big, handsome bespoke card, with the sender's name and address in glossy raised type, is the one that really gets my Christmas goat. But so does any card that doesn't bear the name of a charity on the back. My wife and I have an annual tut-tutting ritual when we open cards that exist only to raise money for WHSmith.

If the point of sending Christmas cards is to show that you are thinking of others, then at least go the extra yard and contribute a few pence to Oxfam, or breast cancer research, or the local donkey sanctuary, or anything, really.

Without the charity element, sending Christmas cards becomes an even bigger exercise in social posturing than it already is. It's already bad enough, not sending cards to people you haven't received a card from since 2005, only to scribble something hurriedly when theirs arrives on the 23rd.

Or sending bigger, more expensive cards to the folk you want to alert to the fact that you're doing well for yourself in life, like the ageing parents of the girlfriend who chucked you 20 years ago, while saving for the milkman and the postman the little square ones featuring three wise men slightly out of register.

Then there's the dreaded round-robin letter. "This year we spent quite a lot of time in our second home in South Africa," is a verbatim quote from a round-robin circulated to my university friends and myself by one of our contemporaries. Still, at least she gave us all something to retch over. There are other round-robins that are like literary Mogadon: "Nick's grandma got quite a lot deafer in the course of the year," wouldn't be interesting even if we'd met Nick's grandma, which we hadn't.

But at the same time, if a Christmas card is all that's keeping you in touch with someone, then at least use it to say something. A few extra words on a card doesn't hurt, as long as it's not "must get together in 2009", which is Christmas card-speak for "probably won't see you until we meet accidentally in an airport, in 2017".

I've realised I'm running out of space before I've even scraped the icing off the top of the Christmas cake. There's also competitive card-sending, whereby friends send you cards bearing detailed architectural drawings of St Paul's Cathedral, and on the back, the devastating message "designed by Toby Merryweather, aged 4".

Not to mention the silly business of grown women handing Christmas cards to each other outside the school gate. I always want to say "you're both 43, love, not seven", but of course that would get me earmarked as a miserable old sod with no yuletide spirit, which would never do.

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