GP Taylor: Sad decline of a festive tradition as last post called for Christmas cards

THERE are only three cards on my mantelpiece so far this year. Once upon a Christmas, it was brimful with greetings that would often spill over on to the tree as well. Over the last decade, I have noticed a decline in the good old-fashioned Christmas card.

Are you sending Christmas cards this year?

Since their advent in 1846, billions of them have been sent to mark the festive season. Now it seems that they are in terminal decline.

Having ruled out that my lack of cards was due to my lessened popularity, I began to research the state of card giving around the world.

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Wherever I looked, the story was the same. African, American, British and French newspapers often carried the same story. People were no longer as keen to send a Christmas card to their friends and family.

The holiday season was just as popular with millions being spent on presents and food, but card sales were in decline or, more precisely, card sales were changing.

In 2005, we British sent over 1.2 billion cards. That has now dropped significantly to just over 750 million. More cards are sent in this country than many others, but the facts are out there, fewer cards are being sent.

This is worrying for Yorkshire as we are one of the major hubs of the greetings card industry which employs more than 100,000 people nationally.

Charities too are worried as their card sales brought in approximately £50m for good causes.

In response, the greetings card industry has set about producing niche designer cards and going upmarket. This approach seems to be working, but still, fewer but more expensive cards are being sent.

I find this very sad, although I have to admit that the job becomes quite tedious after writing a few cards.

It is nice, however, to get and send a hand-written message at Christmas. It shows that we are not forgotten and that as we think of others, they are also thinking of us. Christmas cards are a personal way of sending our love and thoughts to people we may not have seen in a long while. They are a small gesture and one that I always appreciate.

Sadly, I fear that the decline in card sending goes hand in hand with a decline in handwriting and the rise of the internet.

We are now in the season of the Facebook Christmas greeting, with people plastering their pages with the cute pictures of puppies in Santa hats wishing everyone happy holidays so not to offend the non-religious.

The word Christmas seems to be offensive, and I have noticed that even cards have fewer and fewer religious scenes of worried mothers and grinning donkeys on them.

It is not just the lyrics of Fairytale of New York that are under attack. Christmas card manufacturers are being careful not to be politically incorrect with their messages.

The Christian message is being dumbed down and replaced by chubby robins and snowy, Victorian streets. Dickens is taking over from baby Jesus.

It will not be long before Christmas is replaced by a mid-winter festival.

A survey commissioned by the Bible Society showed that out of nearly 6,000 card images on offer in shops and supermarkets, only 34 had religious images.

As society moves away from organised religion, that is reflected in our choice of cards.

If Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp weren’t already taking their toll on cards, then the Post Office certainly is.

This week I posted a card to America and was charged £1.67.

Even a second-class stamp is 58p.

It means that if an average family sends 30 cards, then the cost of posting becomes prohibitive.

Gone are the days of being able to send cards to everyone you know.

Surely, at this special time of year, couldn’t the Post Office give a bundle price for people wanting to send cards? Buy one get one free works in many sales environments.

Why not with greetings cards?

It is worrying to find out that research suggests one in five people thinks that sending cards isn’t an important part of Christmas.

For many people, receiving a card may be the only greeting they get at this often, lonely time of year.

A million older people will feel isolated in the next few weeks.

A card may be the only contact they have to know they are being thought about by someone, somewhere.

Cards may be slow and old- fashioned, but they are an integral part of our culture and 
of Christmas.

It would be a great loss to have them sacrificed on the altar of social media.

A Facebook message is here today and deleted tomorrow.

A Christmas card can be a piece of art that we can treasure long after the lights on the Christmas tree and the baubles on the mantelpiece have been taken down.

GP Taylor is an author, former policeman and vicar from North Yorkshire.