Indonesia Expat

Never Mind the Trees

Here we are in January again, avoiding eye contact with our New Year’s resolutions and drinking normally despite a rueful and groggy New Year’s Day vow to stay dry until February. We meant well though. I am sure there are a few sturdy sorts out there who are still on the wagon, maybe even some who have given up the evil drink forever, but I’m certainly not one of them.

I lasted until January 7, which I thought was a sterling effort. In my defence I was invited to a lunch, which seemed innocent enough on the surface, but turned out to include free-flow wine and beer. That’s an ambush and was grounds enough for me to grant myself an instant reprieve with a minimum of guilt. (For those of you who never drink alcohol, good for you, but I am reminded of a Winston Churchill quote; “It must be terrible waking up in the morning knowing that’s the best you’re going to feel all day.”)

Over the holidays, I started to think seriously for the first time about how much Christmas has changed over the years. Until this year I kind of absent-mindedly assumed it is because I am a big boy now and as everyone says, Christmas is very much for kids; a time of wonder, excitement and innocence. That is true, of course, and I do have fond memories of sleepless Christmas Eves staring at the clock and excited Christmas mornings bursting into my parents’ room at 6am with my brother and sister to ask if we could open our presents. (We once burst in while our father was opening his Christmas present but a few years of therapy sorted that out.)

If I had to sum up what I think has changed for the worse about Christmas in one word, the word would be “thoughtfulness”. I realised during this last festive season that, while I do have very fond memories of Christmas as a child (apart from that one incident… happy place… happy place…), I also have fond memories of Christmas 25 years ago when I was already wearing long trousers and telling the truth about girls.

The big ritual back then was the giving and receiving of Christmas cards. Every house you visited during the Christmas season would have Christmas cards all over the place, on every flat surface and sometimes displayed proudly up high, splayed over a piece of string as part of the seasonal decorations. Everyone used to send cards by post to people they wouldn’t see over the holidays and take personalised cards with them wherever they went around Christmas-time to distribute among family and friends, as and when they saw them. Everyone would keep a few spare cards and a pen in their pocket or in the car so they could hurriedly make one out to somebody who turned up unexpectedly or had been forgotten. Lonely people would even send cards to themselves.

Why did we display Christmas cards so proudly in our houses? Because they represented people who had thought about us and taken the time and trouble to write a card and make sure we got it. Why did we go to such great lengths to make sure that we gave a card to everybody we knew? Because if we didn’t it would imply that we didn’t like them or care about them. Christmas cards were like Valentine’s cards without the romance, and not giving somebody one at Christmas was like not giving your girlfriend one on Valentine’s Day (I had to shoehorn that one in there but it was worth it). We would even lie rather than admit that we had forgotten to get a card for someone. “Did you get my card? No? That’s weird…”

The Christmas card was more than just a greeting, it was a message. The message was not just “Happy Christmas” (the text messages, emails and e-cards we send now say that in an instant with minimum hassle and maximum sterility). The message was “I am thinking about you, I value you, and I am prepared to make an effort to make sure you know that.” In many ways the Christmas card was the ultimate thoughtful gift we gave to everyone we knew, not just to the people closest to us. So forget about the trees and all that green nonsense, let’s bring back the Christmas card; the time-consuming, thoughtful, wonderful, pain in the arse that it was.

P. S. If you were offended by anything in this article, I wasn’t talking to you, and if you do still send Christmas cards, where’s mine?

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