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. They say that they prefer giving to charity, or express an urgent new concern for Planet Earth and the terrible waste of cardboard. For the very highest of motives, they are sending out a group email instead, perhaps with a link to a funny video.
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 any sense of personal hurt or insult.
It is unfortunate that the great Christmas-card panic happens at the time of the year when none of us has time to think because, if we did, we would recognise that communicating in a hurried postal way with distant figures from the past is saying many things, but none of them is about friendship.
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.
What we once had has changed from friendship into something else. It has become a form of weary, dutiful social contact, like attending a dinner party held by bores, or turning out for the leaving do of a colleague you have never particularly liked. Far from being an expression of affection, our cards have gradually become acts of passive aggression. The only question has been which of us can make the other feel guilty first.
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.
So we’re good at sport. But what next?
If you read a newspaper, own a television, or talk to other people, you may well have noticed that it has been rather a good year for British sport.
Not only did we hold successful and well-run Olympic and Paralympic Games, but our sporting heroes won an unusually large number of major events.
Yet the media, and in particular the BBC, seem to be unable to let go of the euphoria of last summer. There were moments during the broadcast of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show on Sunday night, for example, when the voice of propaganda became too loud, too naggingly intrusive.
By now, we have discovered that the British can be friendly, and that everyone feels better as a result. The importance of young people becoming involved in sport has also been pretty well established, as has the inspiring dedication, courage, decency and so on of our medallists.
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