Staying in touch

Yes, it’s Christmas again. As well as red bows around street trees, incessant carols in supermarkets, and gift catalogues, you know the season is under way when the first Christmas card appears in the letterbox.

In earlier decades, my intolerant, black-and-white younger self couldn’t see the point of sending a bunch of cards each year. Either you’re in touch with someone anyway, I thought, or you’re not. If you’re not, sending them a card every year isn’t much of a substitute.

It’s a mark of maturity (or selling out, whichever you prefer) that the annual ritual starts to make sense. Some people that you would like to be in more frequent contact with are just not close enough at hand for that to happen. As those people get older, as well, they acquire families and other appurtenances that push everyone else into second or third place. This is all inevitable and just the way things are. So getting a card each year provides that particle of reassurance that someone is thinking of you, even though you haven’t spoken to or laid eyes on that person for a while.

Australians move house, on average, every seven years. Our increasing mobility, new communications technologies, and the increasing demands of paid work all contribute to the fragmentation of relationships. (Recent events like a couple of bouts of lockdown only amplify this tendency.) The absence of social connections has been identified as a risk factor for an impressive range of physical and psychological ailments. A few dozen cards on a mantelpiece, the top of a piano, or wherever signify that, in spite of all the things separating us from our families and pals, we remain socially plugged-in.

There is, of course, a reciprocal principle lurking not too far beneath the surface. As that great philosopher and baseball coach Yogi Berra remarked, “You don’t go to their funeral, they don’t come to yours”. So it is that my beloved and I gear up for the annual Christmas card sendathon.

Our modest effort pales by comparison with my parents’ yearly communication blitz. Writing their Christmas cards seemed to take them the best part of a day. The bridge table was set up, cards, envelopes and stamps stacked in piles, and a serious list was worked through. Names were culled, and others added when, after several years’ silence, these lurkers sent them a card. Of course every one of the cards Mum and Dad sent was hand written — none of this wimpy Christmas Letter stuff! (I must confess we have resorted to that for the last few years, family members excepted. I think of it as our Annual Report.)

Unlike HMQ, I don’t have a Christmas Message. (No offence, but I will know I am really past it when I start looking forward to that!) I just hope that everyone reading this gets what they want, not just on Christmas Day, but as often as possible. Not too much, of course — just now and then.

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