How many have you had?
Christmas cards, that is. Advent Sunday is traditionally the day the most efficient among us send out our neat red envelopes. Over the next month, the trickle will swell to a small torrent, peaking on around 20 December, before the whole wasteful pile goes into the recycling after Twelfth Night.
Except this year, the trickle may never make it into a torrent. Christmas cards are dying out. In the UK, we already send about 150 million fewer cards than we did in 2005. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said that they are not bothering to send any this year. It could be a subtle way of telling me that I’ve been crossed off their list, but since one of them is my mother, I trust this is not the case.
For my part, I haven’t properly sent Christmas cards, barring the odd one to an old French pen pal or hand-delivered few, since leaving school (when, weirdly, I would send 50 to people I saw day in, day out). It would be nice to cite environmental concerns but it would also be disingenuous. Laziness and a lack of time and money are the real, less charitable, reasons.
At least most of my peers feel the same, so it’s unlikely to cause offence. But even the older generation, for so long caught up in the hamster wheel etiquette of returning every festive missive, is giving up. A survey by Saga last week found that more than half of over-50s asked were planning to send fewer cards this year. Sending 50 cards first or second class this Christmas will cost £7 more than it did in 2011. It’s not surprising that more people are finding them a luxury they cannot or will not afford.
That’s what Christmas cards are in the age of Facebook – a luxury. There is no need for an annual postal update when news of friends and their families, not to mention pictures, are just a click away. There’s a sentimentality around cards because they are handwritten, but by the time you’ve scrawled “Love to the kids” 30 times, how personal are they, really? Besides, there are other ways to show that you care – donate the stamp costs to charity, or pick up the phone. Don’t, though, send an e-card. Even worse than the smug round-robin letter, dancing clip art snowflakes will bring out the Scrooge in even the most festive soul.
There's a reason why you don't see Chris Hoy racing Jessica Ennis, or Andy Murray facing off with Nicola Adams. They're not remotely comparable. And yet, come 16 December, they will duke it out for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Whether they want to or not.
This year's shortlist is an improvement in one sense, making space for five women in the final 12, as opposed to none in 2011. But it points up the absurdity of the prize when voters are asked to choose between eight Olympic and three Paralympic gold medallists while others like Greg Rutherford and Victoria Pendleton don't even make the cut.
It's impossible to say whether Mo or Murray showed more sporting spirit – if, indeed, that's what the nebulous "personality" means – this summer. The only certainty is that this has been a remarkable year for British sport. So for 2012, the only sensible option for the BBC is to give the award to Team GB as a whole. And then to scrap the whole expensive extravaganza for good. I'm sure the UK's sporting stars won't miss the chance to obtain an ugly bit of mantelpiece clutter and to make an awkward speech which, more often than not, highlights their lack of personality in the traditional sense. They already have their gold medals to treasure – and far more important titles to win.
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