Number of Christmas cards I will be sending: 0
Number of Christmas presents I will be buying: 1
My one Christmas present purchase is a concession to workplace politics rather than any kind of festive feeling. It’s the annual Secret Santa, and in the name of diplomacy, I will purchase a present (£10! It used to be only £5. What is the government doing about this level of inflation, I should like to know? Next stop, Weimar Republic, and don’t come crying to me when you need a wheelbarrow to carry your wages home. Unless you’re a senior banker, naturally, since they already not only utilise a wheelbarrow for this purpose but also employ a man to push it). This present is for someone I don’t know, and whom I had to get someone else to identify for me.
And for £10, I need to identify what my assigned target most desires within that price range, purchase it, wrap it attractively, and place it in the box provided ides for the purpose.
What is the point of all this? It depends, I think, on the attitude with which it is approached. With a bit of effort, one could view the Secret Santa enterprise as a tool in intradepartmental bonding: you are assigned one person, and your task is to find out enough about them that you can buy a nice present that they will appreciate. And in return, someone will do the same for you. On opening your present, you get a nice warm feeling that there is at least one person in the entire department who has paid enough attention to you as a person, rather than as a work-unit, to discover that you have a secret passion for…well, whatever it is you have a secret passion for.
Unfortunately, this isn’t what usually happens. After working yourself up into a fever-pitch of anticipation at the thought that someone in the department actually cares, you open your present to find… Bubble bath. Or chocolate. The standard gifts that mean “I don’t know you, I don’t care about you, so here is a Gift For The Anonymous Female.” Or, potentially worse, the bad-taste present that is neither witty, nor useful, nor attractive.
And then there’s the problem of Christmas cards. A more pointless (and expensive) waste of money I cannot imagine. If you are going to see someone, you can tell them Happy Christmas; if you’re not going to see them, a Christmas card simply demonstrates that, having written “To Joe” and “Love From Me” on it, you consider your communicative duty complete. You don’t even have to make up your own greeting because it’s printed on the card for you. If you really cared, wouldn’t you ring them and have a chat? Or send a proper letter?
Of course, one thing cards are good for is a popularity contest. You set them up all around your living room and then invite your friends around so that they can see how many people liked you enough to send you a card, and compare their own total. It’s sort of like Facebook, only with cardboard. There are, however, certain tactics that will give you an edge in the competition: if you send out lots of cards, you might just be able to guilt a few people who wouldn’t normally send cards into sending a return card, just so they don’t seem churlish.
The problem, I think, is an emphasis on quantity over quality. This might well be appropriate if you’re Josef Stalin, but in personal interactions that don’t include tank warfare, quality should be the way to go. Who cares if you send out three hundred cards every year? When did you last speak to those people? Do you know anything about them beyond their name? Wouldn’t it be better, if you’re going to do the thing, to just concentrate on close friends – but make those friends feel valued?
It’s so easy to communicate with everybody now that it’s sometimes hard to remember why we do it: because it says I know you and I value you. My life is made richer by knowing you.
And here is a link to my very favourite Christmas carol. I think it captures the modern Christmas spirit perfectly.