Why I'm not sending Christmas cards this year - Christa Ackroyd

I still keep my mum’s old address book for sentimental reasons and because it’s written in her hand.

Mum was a neat and organised sort of a person and her handwriting reflected that, small and perfectly formed. She was like my dad a beautiful writer. My handwriting is a little like me, loud, large and rather brash, but then that’s being taught italics for you.

She must have had that address book 30 years or more and if I look at it now, as I occasionally do, I see it is full of crossings out and bits of loose paper as people’s lives changed and they moved house, moved away or sadly passed away as she grew older. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. In its own way that little address book is a record of her family and friendships and her commitment to maintaining those ties. And I treasure it as such.

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Mum was good at keeping friendships alive. She was good at remembering birthdays, each of them transferred every year into her new diary which my brother always bought her for Christmas. She had three sisters, dozens upon dozens of friends, god children, nieces and nephews and she found time to keep in contact with them all, even if it was only twice a year and with the occasional phone call.

Christa Ackroyd has decided against sending Christmas cards this year. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)Christa Ackroyd has decided against sending Christmas cards this year. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Christa Ackroyd has decided against sending Christmas cards this year. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Mum was always careful with the phone. One of my most abiding teenage memories was her telling me to get off the phone as ‘it cost money’ and her asking me why on earth I would want to talk so long to someone I had only seen at the school gates an hour or so before and I would see again the following day. She had a point. But then as you might have gathered I love to talk. And that was long before the free calls convenience of a mobile phone.

If the telephone was a necessity in those days it was also a luxury, not that you worried if you were not the one paying the bills. But it was the reason why mum even made lists of all she wanted to say in her weekly phone calls to those closest to her. Idle chatter cost money. And if she wanted to say more she would drop someone a line, write a letter. Sadly I can’t tell you the last time I wrote one of those.

If birthdays were important then so too was Christmas. Mum started buying stamps for cards in October. But then she always kept a few spare stamps in her purse if like me your were never organised enough to either buy them or find where you had put them if you had. I was always borrowing stamps and that address book usually at the last minute, because that’s me.

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By November she began writing her Christmas cards. And by December she was already asking if I had written mine, which I did each year at her house using her address book to keep in touch with aunts and uncles both honorary and real and the various cousins scattered around the country. For me it was, if I am honest, a chore and something I would put off doing until the last minute. To mum it was not only a duty it was a joy.

Every year she would send at least 100 Christmas cards. What’s more most of them would contain a little note, well crafted and well thought out, pertinent to that person. And even though we would see her every Christmas day we got one too.

And I never kept one, sadly. Not that she would have minded that. Mum was that rare breed of being practical as well as sentimental. Every drawing, postcard swimming certificate and sadly school report was neatly filed away. But not Christmas cards. The envelopes were used for shopping lists, the cards themselves saved for us to copy or draw on, even cut out. Nothing was ever thrown away. But that was after the prerequisite Jan 6th dismantling of Christmas. Until then they were literally everywhere. Every shelf, every surface every fireplace. And you couldn’t catch her out.

She knew who had sent every one and if on the rare occasion someone new had joined the list she considered it a personal failure until she had sent one back and had added a new name to the address book so she wouldn’t be caught out the following year. Some of the names in there are very familiar to me. Some, like her, are no longer with us. I recognise some as childhood friends determined to keep in touch when either she or they moved away.

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Our Christmas trees were decorated with the same clashing baubles including cotton wool snowmen made at school and for at least 20 years the joy of unfolding the paper bells and adding the gaudy tinsel knew no bounds.

But things change. And not always for the better. Christmas trees are perfectly adorned to match the decor. Parcels are often sent directly from online purchasing companies. And the Christmas advent calendar has morphed into another way of paying a small fortune for small gifts behind each door which like those found in the crackers we probably don’t need and will never use.

And so to my confession.

Sorry mum I have decided that this year I won’t be sending Christmas cards. There I have said it and I feel bad now. But there it is. Too late to change it now.

I have made my decision for three reasons. Firstly the cost of the stamps means it is no small expenses. Secondly and dare I say it I keep in touch with most of my friends and far more that once a year online or on the phone, and thirdly I have decided that the charities I support can well use the hundred pounds or so I will spend on sending them to better effect than the Post Office.

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But I know mum would have been horrified and it doesn’t feel quite right. (What’s the betting tomorrow I am still running around the neighbourhood with a bundle of hastily written cards as I ever was.)

But don’t judge me. I am still not sure I have made the right decision. But it is one that I instinctively feel is becoming more and more popular in difficult times.

And I trust those who say they are giving to charity instead to genuinely do so. I like Christmas cards. I have enjoyed looking at them over the years. I like the card chosen by our King and Queen commemorating their coronations and the black and white photo of the Wales’s and their children is sweet enough though it’s a little dull. But the world isn’t going to implode if I change some traditions to suit today’s changing times. And as I write shopping lists on my phone that includes cutting down on the cutting down of trees and the cost of sending Christmas cheer from my house to yours. Although I do, most sincerely.

So happy Christmas. Enjoy your time together. That’s what Christmas is all about. And thinking of those who need our help more than ever before. And far more than a Christmas card stuck on a door with blue tac.

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