How to keep to the letter of Christmas card etiquette

The annual missives are a minefield of social politics, explains Nuala Woulfe

It’s that time of year again, when if you’re a woman (and it is mostly women) you’ve started the drudgery of writing the annual Christmas cards. The ordeal is something akin to rewriting your wedding gift thank you notes and, if you’re married, your Himself has possibly duped you by now into writing his Christmas cards as well.

But writing Christmas cards is not just a mildly tedious annual activity, writing Christmas cards is a dangerous social minefield where, rightly or wrongly, you can be judged and if you fail or offend you might just find yourself being crossed off other peoples’ Christmas lists the following year.

Firstly, the suitability of the card itself can’t be overlooked. We’re a modern Ireland with modern friends, family and relationships and not everyone has the same beliefs. This brings some dilemmas. What kind of card should we choose for the atheists/humanists in our circle? Will they be offended if we send a card at all? How about friends who are Buddhist, pagan or Jewish? Do we offend if we send; do we offend if we don’t? Across Ireland, Christmas card packs are sifted through forensically. Who best suits the snowmen and reindeer? To whom can I send the scenes of shepherds and kings?

Nuala Woulfe
Nuala Woulfe

The size of the card also conveys hidden meaning. A woman once told me, “the bigger and flashier the card I send the more I like the person”. So if you received a card last year that looks like it came from the pound shop you’re most likely only just being remembered by the sender, perhaps you need to do some major sucking up this year? For Christmas cards allow you to curry favour.

There are those who like to receive a card as Gaelige and the charity card, sort of says you’re caring and considerate, not like everyone else who is being powered this festive season by manic greed. But that cute photo card of you and your little darlings at Santa’s grotto, that you hope conveys what a great family you have, well you can never assume. You can be sure in some households it gets shoved in at the back along with the Christmas DIY cards your artist kids scribble every year.

What about cards to couples who’ve split during 2016? Should they get a card each? Has she kept her married name? You’d be surprised the amount of women who do, even ‘Cheryl’ got fierce attracted to Cole and even more so to Fernandez- Versini since she copyrighted the name. But we also mustn’t offend any women who’ve kept their maiden name. Instead of writing to the X family, you might have to remember to copy both his and her surnames on the envelope, a bit of a chore when you’re writing a tonne of cards and your hand is cramped and every extra word.

I knew a woman once who said if a friend sent one card to her and her boyfriend she’d be raging; they should get a card each with different messages. The possibility to offend exists in ways you’ve never imagined. Christmas card writing is a high-stakes game.

How to keep to the letter of Christmas card etiquette

There’s those who won’t mind if your kids, to save on the wrist paralysis, actually write a few cards for you, grannies and aunties are usually most receptive to this, but don’t make the mistake of having your kids write a line to an acquaintance or friend who might see the if you do not write personally in your own blood, sweat and tears.

When the actual cards are written, next comes the businesses of writing addresses, which must also be approached methodically. Perhaps your recipients live in a certain area but like to pretend they live at a posher postcode. God forbid you put down the less salubrious address. Who cares if you confuse the postman? You don’t want anyone fuming at your envelope and thinking cross thoughts about you for the year.

Finally, it’s time to post off the stack, yes the postage is ferocious, but you feel a bit of pride at a job well done, then on the last day of mail being delivered it arrives; the card from the person you’ve forgotten or from the person who didn’t send you a card last year. It’s too late to send a card back but social etiquette dictates you do something.

Should you send a belated Happy Christmas and have a wonderful New Year card? Or maybe by now your nerves are shot to ribbons from the stress. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to writing Christmas cards completely. I suppose it’s only once a year and I know some people really love the cards being sent – I guess I’ll just persevere!


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