Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cards, and here we go round the mulberry bush.

Doing Christmas cards, and how difficult I find it. Lee at A Curate's Egg was explaining how, as an atheist, he holds with Christmas, and many other festivials, particularly because we need things to look forward to; depression thrives on looking back.

True, except it seems to me that Christmas is much about looking back, it is built on the accretions of Christmases past, the 'Christmassy' feeling I so often feel disappointed that I don't have, then when it creeps up and bites me when I least expect it I resent or feel embarrassed about or it nearly tears the heart out of me, is surely, at least after childhood, one of the most bittersweet, nostalgic, longing.

Also, how one looks back is very dependent on one's character. Depressives, surely, look back with pain, and persist in doing so, while positive people who tend to cheeriness look back rosily, remember mostly the good times, and this regardless of the apparent outward nature of their past experiences. I am, mercifully, not depressive in any real sense of the word, but I know I do tend towards negativity, melancholy, accidy, lack of self-belief and a host of other spiritual indigencies, and I'm afraid I often look back more with regret and a sense of failure than with joy and a satisfied glow, particularly with regard to my past relations with other people.

So that's why I don't like the ritual of writing Christmas cards, that strange Anglo-Saxon tradition so sensibly incomprehensible to the rest of the world. They are so often that last tenuous, sometimes reluctant contact with people that we have otherwise left behind - "Do you still hear from so-and-so?" "Oh, just Christmas cards...", and as such, for lugubrious types like me, tinged with guilt, regret, occasionally reproach, a sense of the ineluctably sad passing of life, and all kinds of other discomfort.

Or that's one reason. Another is that Tom, who seems not to find the matter oppressive in this way, and tends to propose a full-on attack and a rather factory-line approach to the task, often ends up addressing the envelopes. The matter of forms of address always becomes a point of contention. When so many people don't marry, and those that do keep their unmarried names, or sometimes one doesn't even know whether they are married or not, or when people remarry but their children keep their previous name, when people live with people whose family names I don't even necessarily know, when others hate the idea of a particular title or indeed any title at all, I find it altogether more tactful, simple and acceptable to write their names simply, without titles, or sometimes even just their first names, on the envelope. My mother had good friends who were Quakers, and I grew up understanding that it was an acceptable choice to leave out titles.

Unfortunately Tom was schooled in a set of inflexible formalities with regard to what you should and shouldn't put on an envelope, and finds it an effrontery to his amour propre and unacceptably rude to write simply 'Jane and Paul, 13 Newt Crescent...' or whatever. His idea of a compromise is to put inverted commas around the names - he doesn't go as far as to write sic in brackets but I suppose it's a similar denial of responsibility, ie, this is what she told me to write but I don't hold with it. To me, this looks totally bizarre, like we're calling into doubt that that is the person's real name.

Anyway, we haven't fallen out about it, as all is generally peace and goodwill in this household at the moment, and it isn't worth getting in a tiz about it, or much else really, but I suppose I'm partly writing about it here to let people know that if they get a card from us with their names in inverted commas, or if we've mistakenly assumed you're married when you aren't, or committed any other faux pas, we really aren't taking the piss...

However, the Christmas card ordeal is now all over bar the posting, I'll call a halt to the bah-humbugging, and I relax a little and do a bit more genuine looking-forward-to. Then of course there might be phone calls... oh well, sufficient unto the day.

Now, have you downloaded your Picasa 3 yet? If not do so. It's free and quick with lots of tasty new features, including more collage possibilities and a text button. Just google it and there it is.

The other morning was beautifully frosted. We'd had breakfast in bed, a part of the convalescent regime I can see going on a great deal longer than the necessity for it, and when we came down, the post had brought a wonderful non-Christmas parcel from my lovely sister involving textile goodies and other fun, and a couple of my Vistaprint calendars, which were not bad at all. So to round off the deliciousness of the morning, I hurried out to catch the light, and when I came home again the washing-up was all done!


14 comments:

Jean said...

Oh dear. I couldn't help giggling at the thought of you and Tom doing this, the inverted commas etc, but I would not be laughing if I was you :-( You evoke the whole thought process and dynamic so vividly. I shan't feel so hassled now about writing mine - at least I can address them any way I want!

I see you are playing with the new Picasa collage function - nice. Haven't got around to that, although as you know I have had a go with the text tool.

Barrett Bonden said...

At the end of the first year with the French house, I sent Christmas cards to the menuisier, the plombier and the former owner of the French house who was scheduled to be the mother-in-law of my deputy editor. In the New Year my French teacher told me why I shouldn't have done this. A Christmas card carries the presumption that the recipient recognises this Christian feast. No problem, I replied, they are all catholics. Ah, but in a secular state where the separation of church and government is ordained by law it is the act of a clumsy étranger to make that intellectual leap. We then went on to discuss how many angels can dance on a pin-head.

Plutarch said...

I agree about Picassa 3 - a great improvement, particularly being able to superimpose print on pictures.

People who don't send Christmas cards worry me. There is something fanatical in their refusal to join in the ritual. It's the sort of superior attitude you find in people who don't have tv sets, and become angry if you forget about their inhibitions, and then refer in conversation to a particular programme or sports broadcast, which through their own pigeadedness,they have been deprived of.
I have given up worrying whether people are married or not when addressing envelopes. And, for ourselves, it never worries me what status is bestowed on or withdrawn from our relationship of 17 years by the cards we receive. It's its endurance that counts, and being remembered by the sender.

Catalyst said...

I generally detest the Christmas holiday . . probably because of all the commercial pressure on television and in the papers. But this year, strangely, I am feeling a bit more likely to do some cards and maybe even put up some lights. Maybe I'm getting senile!

Crafty Green Poet said...

I've got my Christmas card list down to those I really want to keep in touch with. I smiled at the story of your battles over envelope addressing....

Rosie said...

a couple of years ago, we stopped putting up decorations...and sent our last christmas cards...now the children have grown up.
What a sense of relief. Now I contact people because I want to

Bee said...

Christmas cards! As with blogging,there is a reciprocity: the more you give, the more you get.

I wouldn't be without them, but they do pose (couldn't resist the photographic pun) one of the thornier problems of the holiday for me. Being an American, I feel obliged to include a picture of my children. Not only is this a challenge to my photographic and aesthetic skills, but it is also a trial to get both girls looking reasonably happy at the same time. I finally got a pic that I was more or less satisfied with on Sunday, so I will be commencing with the addressing and writing-a- message bit soon.

Sigmund ignores this task entirely, as he does with all of the Xmas preparations (with the exception of buying me a gift), so at least we don't have addressing differences to negotiate. I use first names -- except for with the old Guard, who I know prefer Mr. and Mrs.

It is a bit huffy to get offended about receiving a Christmas card! Certainly I am always grateful just to be thought of and remembered. Anyway, I always write "Season's Greetings" -- which surely covers all bases.

Zhoen said...

We slowly gave up christmas cards, as we lost contact with many from our parent's generation, and our own friends didn't really care about them. It became a huge expense. So as most of our cards seemed to come from businesses and our dentist, we stopped completely.

I don't mind them, however they are addressed.

Zephyr said...

i love getting and sending Christmas cards
but i'm all over the place about it. Sometimes i get them out, sometimes not. Usually before Christmas, not always. Sometimes they end up being Happy New Year cards...and since they are of my own making, it doesn't matter. i just like the idea of sending pretty pieces of mail with real handwriting on it to those i try to always remember.

Email me your address, if you like, and i'll send you one of my homemade cards...with absolutely no strings attached as for expecting reciprocation.

In fact...anyone who wants a card from this silly American, is welcome to do the same.

Lee said...

Yes, Christmas Cards; ritualised acknowledgement that you have moved on from people in your life! Bah!

I am having great difficulty in getting anything Christmassy happening yet. And only two weeks to go.

Reluctant Blogger said...

Ah yes, I feel almost exactly as you do. I really would love to give up writing Christmas cards but I fear people might be upset/offended. I"m just not sure. I will probably do them this year but I do intend to be brave soon and stop.

I am just like you re the addressing business. I never use titles (mostly because I hate having one used for me - it was the main impetus for me to complete my PhD so I could if I was ever forced to use a title use the genderless, marriage-statusless Dr but I rarely do) and tend just to put people's first names or something like "the Mob at The Laurels" The only good thing about Christmas cards is that my children love to decorate the envelopes and I know people like to see their doodles - some of which are a little cheeky!

Dave King said...

Christmas means so many different things to so many people, and as once-committed and active christian and now a not-quite-atheist, I can sympathise with most. For those with their true faiths intact, it is, I suppose, easy (we have a moslem family who send us Christams cards each year), for some it is the memories of how it used to be an happy childhoods, and for many it is simply the feeling that in today's world you have to be on the side of anyone or anything that's on the side of the good guys.

annie said...

My own mother addresses post to me using my husband's surname, which I did not take. :P

In years of plenty I send out gingerbread cookies in lieu of cards, but only to maybe my 20 closest friends.

And, like Zephyr, I love getting and sending real mail. :)

Lucy said...

Quite a mixed bag of responses there!

Jean - well, I guess as far as marital disagreement and compromise goes it could be a lot worse! And at least he does pitch in and share the task. The collage thing is fun, though you can spend a lot of time fiddling with it...

BB - the few French friends we send them to are usually quite charmed, but always write back in January more or less stating 'this is how we do it'. I couldn't abide that, the good thing about Christmas being over and the New Year is that you've got it out of the way. Having said that, this morning I received a lecture from the woman in the post office about how sending cards was an insincere and pointless custom which 'on ne fait pas ici'; when one no longer saw people one should simply 'couper'. Remarkably ruthless for a culture whose language is routinely shot through with the most gaggingly sentimental expressions imaginable...

Joe - Nicely put. I couldn't not do it, and I do like to receive them from many people. It is good to know people are still there, and it's good when it's done, some kind of paying of dues.

Catalyst - Blimey, you'll be buying Bob Cratchett a turkey and carrying Tiny Tim on your shoulders next!

CGP - I don't actually think we include many people we really no longer want to hear from again, we have shed a few over the years when clearly the contact was really no more. We certainly don't do the hundreds that some people in the UK do, and coming here I suppose we did rather escape some of the obligation and 'how many sent and received, therefore how many friends have you got' competition I sometimes perceived there...

Rosie - I'll send you a really tacky one that plays 'we wish you a merry...' then shall I? I'm probably not so good as you at keeping in touch with old friends otherwise, so perhaps it serves some function.

Zhoen - I kind of get the impression it's even more a British thing than an American one actually. I'm not sure I'd welcome one from the dentist!

Zephyr - thanks, I'll do that! I'd love one of your cards. Real mail and real pictures are really great, it's true. I do actually quite like some of the cards in themselves, they can be very lovely, and every few years I have a recycling binge and make them all into new ones!

Lee - oddly, seeing it that way is quite helpful, and gives it more point, not less. As I say, it's a kind of paying of dues. I hope you have a nice Christmas, I know it might be hard without your dad, but I'm sure no one will mind at all if you don't observe all the forms...

RB - that made me laugh, you must be one of the only people to go to the trouble of finishing a PhD so as to avoid being called Miss,Mrs or Ms! I know what you mean about not wanting to be rude. It doesn't have to be all or nothing though, or does it? I guess sometimes people want to know that you're OK and still functioning, but then when you don't get one you don't know if you need to worry or not, and there's not much you can do anyway... I'm sure I'd love to receive one of your kids funny envelopes!

Dave - yes, I certainly wouldn't want to abandon the festival, though I seem to have watched more commercial TV than usual this year and was fairly grossed out by Christmas tat by the end of November... Part of the Chritmassy feeling is a kind of longing for the depth and meaning about the time that having an established religious belief would perhaps bring me, and that bittersweet 'hoping it might be so' hankering. Perhaps the hankering is the point, I don't know.

Annie - always lovely to see you! That sounds the kind of thing my mother might have done...
Gingerbread cookies, what a lovely idea, might get a bit crumbled in the envelope though!