I DON’T know about you but I’ve got three solitary Christmas cards to display on my mantelpiece this Christmas. It’s nothing like ye old yuletide’s past when cards were sent from ‘The Becketts’ to all and sundry, from great aunts twice removed to Dad’s office caretaker.
Throughout the month of December, the postman rang at least twice daily and reciprocal Christmas mail avalanched through our letterbox like the owl letters in Harry Potter. Cards not only decked the hall but covered every surface area, littering occasional tables, festooning the fireplace and hanging like bunting from the pelmets, an impressive testament to my parents’ wide social circle.
These days everyone’s Zooming, emailing virtual Moon Pig cards or composing Christmas newsletters embedded with live video links to family weddings, christenings and holidays abroad … such as they were, in 2020 …. Far more interesting than a card from someone indecipherable, scrawled in the handwriting of a drunk, although it does leave one’s mantelpiece bereft.
But who can blame them? No one wants to stand outside the post office in a slow-moving queue for stamps when they can press Send from the comfort of their own home office. My thoughts go out to anyone behind me in the queue at Los Barrios post office last week. I got the trainee who spent 13 minutes and 26 seconds finding out the price of a stamp to the USA and had never heard of Nueva Zelanda … or maybe it was my Spanglish accent … and thought it was probably in Europe.
Mind you, with the recent lockdown confining us within borders, there were precious few decent card shops you could legally go into. Luckily I found some from last year at the back of a drawer so if you get one from me, you got leftovers!
Covid has changed almost everything but it would be a shame if the Christmas card became another casualty. Like Charles Dickens, plum pudding and the 1951 Alastair Sim movie, Scrooge, they’re part and parcel of a tradition that goes back longer than you think.
The commercial Christmas card was invented by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 but Queen Victoria was not, as is commonly thought, the first to send one. She was pipped at the post by learned German alchemist Michael Maier who sent one to James I of England in 1611.
Only discovered in 1979, his long-winded message laid out in the shape of a rose read: ‘A greeting on the birthday of the Sacred King, to the most worshipful and energetic lord and most eminent James, King of Great Britain and Ireland, and Defender of the true faith, with a gesture of joyful celebration of the Birthday of the Lord, in most joy and fortune, we enter into the new auspicious year 1612’.
In short, have a good one!