How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

I don't want come over all Scrooge-like, but I do find this Christmas card thing a little curious

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The Independent Online

In my former life, I had something of a grudge against the greetings card industry. As a newspaper editor, I was engaged in the unequal struggle of getting people to pay for a printed product of high quality.

This object contained many, many thousands of words - the same number that you'll find in an average-sized novel - and they were all carefully chosen, and then edited. There were lots of colour pictures, there were cartoons, jokes, a crossword or two, and all the news that's fit to print. What's more, it arrived fresh every morning. But would people pay £1 for it? No, they would not.

It was common for newspaper apostles to compare the price of a daily paper, with all its physical properties, the expertise required to make it and the lasting enjoyment it gave, with that of a cappuccino. How could anyone possibly say a paper didn't give good value? (Of course, with the newspaper you are now reading, the equation is even more compelling.)

However, I preferred another, more relevant, comparison. A greetings card is just that: one piece of card, one picture or illustration and a few words of lazily constructed bonhomie. And people don't bat an eyelid about paying a few quid for this! I know, crazy. And while sales of newspapers are falling - yes, I'm aware that there are complicated, structural reasons for this - the sales of cards has remained pretty steady.

This year, we in the UK will be sending around a billion Christmas cards. I heard a woman representing the greetings card industry on TV yesterday saying that Britons send an average of 31 cards each, but I found this a somewhat incredible figure. Given the number of non-believers in our population (I'm talking here about a belief in Christianity and not Santa Claus), and the amount of us who eschew a posted communication in favour of a digital greeting, all I can say is that some people must be sending out cards by the sack load.

I don't want come over all Scrooge-like, but I do find this Christmas card thing a little curious. I understand that, in the era of the email and the text, there is something ineffably pleasing about receiving a letter or card in the post. But it's hard to rail against the commercialisation of Christmas without considering the business of cards. Even allowing for my own particular resistance to spending what I consider an extravagant sum on a simple printed message, I do wonder how many of those billion cards are sent in a spirit of Christian goodwill and not as a perfunctory obligation, informed by rote rather than by any higher feeling.

When I was a newspaper editor, I used to send and receive dozens and dozens of Christmas cards. They came from all sorts of people, many of whom I'd never met, and always from the Prime Minister. Why did they send them? Because they felt they had to. And when I stopped being an editor, the cards stopped, too. It was quite a relief, actually. And now that I have 12,000 followers on Twitter, I can send them all a personal, hand constructed, thoughtful Christmas greeting in 140 characters. Who says I'm not a traditionalist?

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