Christmas is a time for thinking of others; or rather what they think of you. A Christmas card is regarded as a personal statement. It exposes your taste, your ethics, your importance, your handwriting cautious/psychotic your memory for names and the attractiveness or otherwise of your children.
If you send your cards too early or too late, you tend to look needy or out of control. Should you send them at all?
The refuseniks plead eco-awareness or ennui, but it also is a kind of cowardice, rather like refusing to take part in the parents' egg-and-spoon race at Sports Day. There may be a couple of lame card-senders out there who are still staggering towards the finishing line, but with only hours to go, I feel qualified to judge this year's entries.
1. Children (part one). There is now a much higher premium on warm-heartedness than intimidating design or formality.
Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron grabbed children as political shields. Brown commissioned a children's illustrator to draw children of every skin and hair colour who were reading books round a Christmas tree. It was a brand of Gap Calvinism befitting a father/slave driver of the nation.
Cameron chose a Christmas drawing by a schoolchild in his constituency. It is the sort of thing proud parents might stick on their fridge, or, if they are Goldman Sachs partners on bonus day, have framed and put on their desks laughably to suggest it is the meek who are inheriting the earth.
2. Charity About two-thirds of the cards I received this year were charity ones, and about half were charity on recycled paper. Global goodwill is incompatible with our carbon footprints. Father Christmas is under siege from Greenpeace. This has led to humbug; meanness masquerading as conscience.
(The e-card is just another example of the stingy ruling classes. The joyful exception is the singing Santa or elf. Personal assistants have inserted their boss's head onto a ludicrous body and cried with laughter as it performed a cheesy Christmas song and dance. The cards can be sent without your boss's permission or, indeed, knowledge. The receipt of a singing Santa Ian Blair, Dawn Primarolo, Terry Eagleton, Ken Livingstone, Mervyn King or Vladimir Putin has to be cheering.)
3. Consistency. If you are an office big shot your Christmas list is a version of Who's Who with a few additional acts of mercy to those who have fallen or never climbed. If you are a domestic angel you will have a complete list of relatives by marriage and neighbours' children.
For the rest of us, the process is haphazard. I send cards where I happen to have addresses, so the dry cleaner will always trump old school-friends. Some cards are for sucking up children's teachers, bank managers, bosses others for old muckers.
I am undecided whether you should send cards to close family, which can seem ostentatious. Facebook has wholly altered the definition of a circle of friends.
4. Children (part two). Politicians still huffing about political correctness destroying the traditional nativity scene are behind the curve. Jesus has long been usurped in the manger by our own little Messiahs.
Prince Charles and Camilla looked as awkward as did Tony and Cherie Blair with their formal couple photographs. The heart breaker picture would have been William and Harry at Princess Diana's memorial service.
I have admired many photographs of powerful men's children this Christmas and am getting slightly suspicious about their uniform attractiveness. Are the ugly/fat ones airbrushed out? Have they been sent to orphanages?
More worrying is the absence of mothers. Is there a subliminal message to Susan Crossley-style women of the future? Wives come and go; the kids stay.
Sentimental, green and slightly menacing, the Christmas card speaks for our times.