Catholic Herald, 9 September 1988
Exactly four months before December 25, Central News screened an item showing Santa Claus and happy eaters tucking into turkey dinners. This was a highly successful commercial venture that took place in, I think, a Cheltenham Hotel.
Napoleon was right, we are a nation of shop-keepers. Do you realise there are only 90 odd shopping-days until Christmas? Does this fill you with a grisly alarm? The hype, due any day now, from the chain-stores will work us up to a frantic pitch quite at odds with the spirit of the Feast.
Let me recommend the charity brochures, now pattering regularly onto the doormat, as one of the ways to remove the sting from a commercialised Christmas. The festive season can be a guilt-riddled occasion, haunted by the ghosts of the homeless, the starving, the orphans and widows.
Our local Gas Board showroom generously turns over its basement to an assortment of charities in which to show their wares – but not until November. Since the last posting-day to Vladivostok was probably September 2, it is as well to get your cards in now. If you’re anything like yours truly, you’ve forgotten where you put last year’s leftovers.
An order given to the Gardeners Royal Benevolent Society is already stowed in my bathroom cupboard. This excellent society runs homes for retired gardeners (dare one hope to qualify?) and because much of my life is spent crouched in a flower-bed, they were a natural choice. They were also first off the blocks, which shows a keen marketing sense.
Years ago, when we lived in the Far East, the chic practice was to place a notice in the local paper saying that, in lieu of cards, so-and-so was giving a donation to such-and-such a charity. One often missed the notice, and wondered (until Candlemas) why the Hammerfists hadn’t returned the compliment of one’s own nicely worded offering. But it’s a laudable practice and nice people can do both. Charities rely heavily on their Christmas sales.
The card business is booming. There are cards for every possible occasion. (How about “Good Luck with your Diet”?) They cost on average as much as a small loaf of bread and their production employs thousands of people. Such a joy to receive, one has to come to terms with the concept of deforestation to supply all that paper. (When oh when will some clever dickie invent a substitute that is environmentally and aesthetically acceptable?) Recycling last year’s Christmas cards amuses the children for many a happy hour, cutting and glueing, with rather jolly results.
Every year I swear I’ll cut my card list by half, and every year I fail. Were it not for the annual exchange of Christmas greetings, one would lose touch with three quarters of ones’ acquaintances. The scrappits of news and messages enclosed, make it difficult to bin them after Epiphany. Friends of the Earth could collect them – now there’s a source of cards for this year. Or the Red Cross, Save the Children Ockenden Venture, Cheshire Houses, Michael Sobell House, Medical Aid for Poland, the Cystic Fibrosis Society, Marie Curie Foundation, Royal Star and Garter House, Help the Aged . . .