John Dolan: Let’s not give up on this tradition of sending cards at Christmas, it’s too good to lose

One enduring festive tradition that has been written off a few times in recent years is that of sending Christmas cards, so says John Dolan
John Dolan: Let’s not give up on this tradition of sending cards at Christmas, it’s too good to lose
Post office employees sorting the Christmas mail at the Model School, Cork 1955. Picture: Archive

SOME Christmas traditions die out naturally. Do people still play ‘parlour games’, for instance? Or are they too busy watching Netflix or Skyping Uncle Jim in Sydney?

You don’t see candles in the windows in houses on Christmas Eve as much as you did, even a couple of decades ago.

While the old custom of sending a live turkey down the chimney to clean it out, before cooking it and eating it — multi-tasking at its best! — would surely be frowned upon by animal rights groups in this day and age.

Other festive traditions stand the test of time: I’m sure people still tip the postie, even though they may not see them in the flesh from one year to the next. While wren boys can still be spotted in pubs on St Stephen’s Day.

One enduring festive tradition that has been written off a few times in recent years is that of sending Christmas cards.

With the advent of iphones, emails and WhatsApp, we were led to believe that using ‘snail mail’ to send a cheery festive greetings was going the way of the dodo.

“Get with the programme,” us fogeys were told. “Or ‘program’ as the youth of today seem to think it’s spelt.

But, happily, in the past few years, it seems rumours of the death of the Christmas card have been greatly exaggerated. That, after all, it may end up becoming one of those enduring Yuletide traditions that defies modernity and stands the test of time.

If so, it’s a trend that, on the face of it, seems to defy the modern zeitgeist for a greener, environmentally-friendly Christmas.

This year, more than ever, we are being bombarded with pleas to put climate change first when planning Yuletide, but the messages are often mixed and confusing.

Is a real Christmas tree kinder to the environment, or not? They certainly smell nicer than artificial ones, most of which are made from PVC plastic, with many made in that notorious bastion of Christianity... er, China.

Festive lights are clearly not kind to the environment, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire would surely have the newly-crowned Time magazine Person of the Year Greta Thunberg in fits of apoplexy.

And, you would think, Christmas cards also fall under this category. Presumably, en email — or, e-card — is far greener...

But hold on.

A few weeks ago, I read a startling report which stated that the millions of unnecessary emails which are sent every day are bad for the environment.

Think about it. Each email requires power to be sent and power to be received. Many of these emails lie idle in iclouds or suchlike, using up more power.

Cards, on the other hand, can be made of recycled paper. After they have been on display, they can be recycled again.

So, tell me again: Is it really greener to send en e-card to a friend for Christmas than it is to post one?

That’s ignoring all the other side benefits of sending a card. Charity ones, which are increasingly popular, raise millions every year for good causes, so even the biggest Scrooge can donate and help someone worse off than themself in the festive season.

Plus, sending letters keeps a vital industry going which nobody wants to lose — our postal service. It keeps postmen and women in jobs, and keeps our sub-offices open.

But the best benefit to sending a Christmas card instead of an instantly disposable email, tweet or text, is that people still love to receive them. They show you have thought of that person and care about them enough to write a card and send it off. They are more personable, they show you care.

And, I’m delighted to say, there are signs that this preference for a card is not just being kept alive by us old fogeys. The younger generation, for all their love of gadgets and social media, prefer to receive a card in the post too.

Research by the UK Greeting Card Association showed an overwhelming 72% of people would like to receive cards at Christmas, with only 6% saying they prefer a festive greeting via social media and 10% who preferred it via text.

Most respondents said they would appreciate the effort the sender went to and would feel that someone really cared.

Amanda Fergusson, CEO of the Association, said market research suggested consumers aged 18 to 34 (the so-called Millennial generation) were sending more cards overall per year than people were a generation ago.

It’s not entirely clear why this is happening, but Fergusson reckons it could actually be because of social media.

“Because they’re online all the time, if they want to say something special to someone they really care about, they have to make an effort,” she says. ”Sending a handwritten card to tell someone ‘I miss you’ is a far more powerful connection that we have on social media.”

Similarly, in the U.S, where the volume of mail has fallen 43% since 2001, Christmas cards are bucking the trend. Yanks buy 1.6 billion of them each year, and the number has declined at a much lower rate than overall mail.

Another factor in Millennials being fonder of sending cards is that they are the generation currently hitting landmark events such as weddings and children, buying homes and settling down. They are finding, as the generations did before, that sending and receiving cards is a positive and uplifting experience.

There are drawbacks in the modern age: We are more time-poor than ever before and Christmas cards can too easily be crossed off the to-do list.

Also, when folk make friends nowadays, they ask for their email address and befriend them on social media, but never think to take down their address.

Another drawback to sending cards is the more transient lifestyles of young people. Time was when everyone had an address book and its details barely changed from one decade to the next — most folk lived in a ‘house for life’. These days, people rent and move around more, and life tends to be less stable; people don’t stay too long in a fixed abode. It all makes it harder for us to pin them down and send cards.

But, despite all this, Christmas cards seem to have our stamp of approval for decades to come.

Sure, they cost more than the electronic alternative — and the price of postage has had to rise in recent years to support the Post Office through a period of decline — but they are worth the few euros. How much is a smile worth on the face of a family member or friend many miles away?

And if you really do want to help the environment, there are greener alternatives out there.

For instance, you can get a special Plantable Wildflower Card online for €5.50, made of 100% recycled materials and embedded with 12 varieties of wildflower and grass seed.

Once the receiver has read your festive message, they simply plant the card in the ground!

How green is that? Even Greta would approve...

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