The tried and true method of maintaining our social network

In the old days the number of cards that whizzed through the letterbox was a status symbol. PHOTO...
In the old days the number of cards that whizzed through the letterbox was a status symbol. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Peter Matheson reflects on the disappearance of Christmas cards and other little rituals.

These days sending out Christmas cards is on the wane. Everyone says so. Definitely on the way out. Like letters and postcards. Hard copies are just too hard. So we just Skype or email or Zoom or tap out a message on the mobile phone. Fair enough, too.

E-cards do nothing for me though. Methinks their glitter spreads nothing but gloom.

So a wee ritual does seems to be disappearing. In the old days the number of cards that whizzed through the letterbox was a status symbol. Showed where you stood on the pecking list. How many friends you could boast. So once the mantelpiece (it’s disappeared too, of course!) and all available surfaces were filled we’d hang the letters up on strings like prayer flags. All part of the Christmas decorations.

Well things do change, of course.

And it’s true, some cards weren’t up to much, grabbed at the last minute in a panic. All these hackneyed red robins and reindeer and a fat, squelchy Santa Claus. Just a hasty scrawl of greeting. The arty cards could really catch the eye, though, with their vivid nativity scenes, shots of stained glass windows and the like. Artistic friends and children would even create their own, perhaps including intricate straw stars, a delight to hand and eye.

One friend did clever things with his computer, creating lively images with imaginative Maori greetings.

This year we had incredible luck, finding a local artist who created for us delicate “cups of blessing” out of frail mahoe leaves and pansy petals and had them professionally photographed. So gentle and unique. And like many others of our friends we continued to enclose an account of the year just passed.

With this wee rant about the year you can hammer a sort of metaphorical stake into the ground, in briefest compass offer folk a personal take on what the year had been like for you, knowing that others will reciprocate with their good wishes and reflections.

After the flurry of writing (and licking) is over the table is covered with a cheerful litter of stamped envelopes which connect one with old and new friends across Aotearoa, or maybe Australia, Germany, Scotland, England, the United States, wherever.

The stack of envelopes reminds you that you are not alone in the world.

In this individualist, now, now, now society it’s a bit of a challenge to stand back a bit, reflect on the year, share precious moments with others, realise you’re part of a far-flung net of relationships.

It’s salutary to bring to mind folk who have played a creative part in your life. It’s so easy to drift along, these days. So easy to be swamped by wave upon wave of negative news, all the social media chatter. All the more reassuring, then, to retie old threads of partnership and friendship and to be reaffirmed, reattached. Good to remember that there’s love and friendship out there, a human-faced community.

So if these Christmas cards and messages can bring this kindly world to life, maybe we should persevere with them. The wee ritual shouldn’t be lost.

 - Peter Matheson is a Dunedin historian.

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