My wife and I are both atheists so it might seem odd that each year we send Christmas cards or perhaps more precisely, seasonal greetings cards. But it is an important part of our family life, as it was for my own parents, also atheists, although we send out only a fraction of the 400 or so that they would have sent.
This is a familiar ritual repeated in millions of households across the land. For us, the process starts in late November/early December when the year’s cards are selected and our address printed inside. A list of recipients is drawn up, the final date for posting is checked, cards are written, envelopes stamped and addressed. Finally, well almost, there is the journey to the post box for posting or around the local streets for home delivery. Then, of course there will be the inevitable catch-up dispatch. Despite the most careful planning there are still those who we have overlooked, leaving us to rush around to send a card hoping it arrives on time.
Extending beyond the traditional Christmas greetings, we see the cards as celebrating the day when spring is in sight, when daylight hours begin to lengthen. The practice has such universal appeal that, for us anyway, attaching a religious theme no longer seems appropriate. On our list are Atheists, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews and undeclareds, and they too will be sending cards in the same spirit.
And, the pleasure is not just in the sending of cards but in receiving them, in absorbing the illustrations on the front and the messages inside. On the basis of those we have received so far, here is my report on this year’s harvest.
Overall pictorial quality and theme. This year the pictures have been better than ever. There have been many fewer cards than usual with religious themes. We even got skating penguins from a close friend – a devout catholic. There have been lots of Father Christmases, Christmas trees, snowballs and reindeer, some family photos and a diverse collection of animals – cats, rabbits, squirrels, hares – and robins and owls in particular. In general most senders are consistent in their tastes, so from year to year their cards are of a similar style. There was just one very bleak picture this year, ironically it was sent by a couple who are, in real life, very amusing.
Colour. The predominant colour for 2013 has been blue, followed closely by reds and pinks.
Format. In the last few years we have received the occasional email round-robin in place of a paper card. So far this year we have received no such alternative. What a pleasant relief.
Size. Very manageable – none enormous, none tiny. All have been easily accommodated on our mantelpiece or bookshelves
Message. Some people have added little more than a signature, lots have expressed a wish to meet up in the year (although while it would be nice, in my experience often such intentions don’t materialise) and some were more informative, full of news and thoughts and warmth. None this year were illegible and none from people we did not recognise.
Oversights. We have received four cards from people we left off our initial list. The oversights have been rectified but having to do so is, as always, rather embarrassing.
Tenacity. Yet again we received one from Stan. An old neighbour who has sent us a card each year since around 1991 and we have not reciprocated since 1993.
Overall conclusion. Despite my frequent grousing, sending and receiving cards means a great deal to us both. No matter the messages or the content, keeping in touch gives us enormous pleasure. For those we are close to and who we see often, exchanging cards is a must, an affirmation of friendship. For those further afield, this may be the only tangible evidence we have that they still exist. The exchange of cards each year is a wonderful tradition. Long may it last!
And, by the way, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.
Illustration: St James and St Andrew with Angels. Carlo da Camerino (c 1400)