Mark Woods: Symbol of real spirit of Christmas

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Had your first Christmas card yet? Last year £164.4m was spent in the UK on them. That’s just the cards, mind you, not the £5.54p for a first class stamp or whatever it is nowadays.

So there’s a market that’s in rude health despite the threat posed by the Christmas text, tweet or Facebook post. Except that despite what seems a very tidy sum of money to be spent on bits of paper which tend to inexplicably put kittens and candles together in the same place, it actually represents a 20 per cent drop in the number of cards purchased since 2009. It’s hardly surprising, I suppose, and with just nine per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they’d even consider posting a festive card and 76 per cent saying a text will do, the future doesn’t look great either. Despite the fact that I am hopelessly addicted to Twitter and find myself under its 140-character long spell, morning noon and night, the demise of the Christmas card saddens me. There’s something very noble about it all, very British and unifying.

Many a Christmas card list contains reams of people who aren’t generally contacted at any other time of year. And rather than seeing that as something to be ashamed of, I think it’s a great thing. Despite the commercial onslaught, making contact with people is really what sets this time of year apart, what makes it special.

That’s not always a positive, of course. I cheerfully asked my local butcher how 2013 had been as I made my yearly visit to order a turkey and was met with a glum face and a sorry tale of supermarket dominance and customers who only ever make an appearance in December. Point taken.

Generally, though, reaching out to people at this time of year, be that via a card, a visit or even, if all else fails, a tweet is a tradition it would be tragic to lose.

If Christmas cards are eventually consigned to the recycling bin of history it’s to be hoped that excellent schemes like the recently launched NHS Winter Friends initiative, which uses digital technology to encourage people to visit their elderly neighbours during the cold weather, take their place.

Twitter: @mark_r_woods