To Duncan. From the person who always frowns at you

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas you know. I really don’t mind it at all. I’m not a total Scrooge (who, incidentally, was a fellow Langtonian). There are very good reasons to try and enjoy yourself at this time of year. It’s cold, dark and miserable. What else can you do except make the most of it?

Except that people don’t enjoy themselves at Christmas time. They just get totally stressed out. That’s what I hate about Christmas. It’s not Christmas itself. It’s the whole fuss that surrounds it. It completely misses the point for me, which is to cheer yourself up during the winter. Ideally, the run-up to Christmas would last for a week, rather than three months. I haven’t even started any of my Christmas shopping yet — mostly because I haven’t had the time. Most Christmas traditions completely pass me by.

But now I am faced with a dilemma. Colleagues have been giving me Christmas cards. It must be at least four years since I personally received a Christmas card. For me, exchanging Christmas cards is one of the most insincere things that people do at this time of year, and that really is saying something.

I mean, I never receive Christmas cards from my friends, and I never give them cards either. Does that mean I wish them a rubbish Christmas? Of course it doesn’t. It just means I’m not wasting as much paper. I can just wish people a Merry Christmas anyway. Why give them a card? Often the process of gift-giving is completely avoided as well. Two of my friends ceremoniously exchange five pound notes every year.

The only time I’ve ever received Christmas cards was at school. Our primary school had a little mock post box set up next to the office. People would drop their cards in the post box in the morning before the bell rang and the cards would be delivered to our class later on in the day. That is a ridiculously inefficient system if you think about it. You could just, you know, give the cards to your classmates. After all, they are in the same room as you!

Still, it was a fun game to play. I suppose it was meant to be teaching us about the postal system. But our primitive postal system had no stamps and the cards were always delivered on time, so it wasn’t very realistic. Anyway, the whole ceremony of it all meant that it was very easy to see who had — and, more importantly, hadn’t — received a card from certain individuals. Of course, this just meant that everybody ended up having to send a Christmas card to everybody else.

One year I also sent a Christmas card to absolutely everybody in my class in primary 7. I fancied myself as somebody who was quite good at dealing with the organisation of this sort of thing, but I was prone to the odd administrative error. I ended up sending somebody a card twice. This person happened to be a girl, so you can imagine the jolly japes that came my way.

Anyway, the fact that everybody sent everybody else a Christmas card kind of underlines the insincerity of Christmas cards to me. They aren’t really a way to wish somebody a happy Christmas. They are just an evil social convention which we are all dragged kicking and screaming into. It’s not just me who says this. It is common to hear somebody describe their relationship with somebody else as “Christmas cards”. “Christmas cards” means, “I’m not in touch with him at all and I actually hate his guts.”

When I went into the staff room and saw a pile of Christmas cards sprawled across the table I was struck with fear. I knew I had a difficult decision ahead of me. I was hoping just to “not notice” that there were any cards for me so that I could avoid having to write any back. In fact, I didn’t even look to see if there were any for me.

But today a colleague actually told me to go and get the card that was waiting for me in the staff room! I now had no choice but to collect my card. Card? Hah! Turns out I actually have five. And goodness knows how many more are to come. Once the first person put a card there, a domino effect was set in motion. Soon enough I’ll have cards from people that I’ve never even met.

What is even more unsettling is the fact that these five cards come from such a wide range of people. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how it could possibly be more diverse. It is certainly not the five people that I speak to most often. In fact, there is not a toot from most of the people that I actually often speak to. No surprises there then!

So here is my dilemma. Should I just write cards to the five people who wrote me cards? That would seem grudging, as though I was avoiding Christmas cards. That is true, but it’s probably seen as a bit rude. So I could write cards to the five people, then some more other people. But then the people who didn’t get a card might get offended. I could write cards to everybody, but that would seem insincere, and I would also have to write cards to people that I don’t really like.

The only other option is not to write any cards at all, but is that really a viable option? No matter what course of action I take, I will be committing some kind of horrendous faux pas that will undoubtedly be generating conversations whenever I’m not around. Apart from that, I can only phone in sick every day between now and Christmas, but that probably wouldn’t make me very popular with the boss.

Seriously. What’s wrong with just enjoying Christmas instead of having to deal with all of this insincere crap?


  1. Maybe make a point of saying that instead of giving cards you’re giving them money you would have spent on them to charity instead (and actually *do* that too, obviously, which is easy as it’s only about £2.50 or something for the pack of 20 cards you’d have to buy (minus staff discount!)). That way you don’t have to write them but people who care about that sort of thng will still know that you’re “in the spirit of things”. Or something equally fakely festive… I know a few people who do the charity thing instead.

  2. I get around this by making people aware very early on that I don’t “do” Christmas. Nothing overt, I just mention it casually when the subject crops up in September or whenever people start to stress out over the whole thing.

    I don’t send cards and don’t want any. If people do, then I’m diplomatic and polite, but don’t reciprocate. If they are offended, well, too bad. While I don’t seek to offend, no one can use the “I didn’t know” excuse.

  3. I end up sending cards out to a select few people because I end up with a charity pack of cards every year. But I only send them to people who I remember to send one to, and nobody who doesn’t get one thinks any the worse for me for not remembering to send them one. They know I’m not the world’s most organised person.

    My workplace has a lovely tradition. Instead of cards, everyone brings something edible for the staffroom table. The combined contribution keeps everyone fed at work for about a week after Christmas and is quite egalitarian – nobody knows who bought what, so the person who only managed to afford six packets of crisps doesn’t get teased, nor does the person who brought three tins of posh biscuits get excess attention.

  4. That’s a good tradition, Alianora. Even though I have participated in the Christmas card-giving this year, I can’t help but feel that it is a tremendous waste of paper. At least when you give food it is used for a good reason in a sense, rather than just lying on a shelf!