OPINION: Take the cards out of Christmas

I had a spare half an hour this week while in town so followed the festive signs into a church porch and dutifully selected my stack of charity Christmas cards.

I come from a family where my siblings have their gifts wrapped and delivered before the clocks go back, so I am, by their odd-ball standards, leaving it to the last minute. As I was handing over my cash at the checkout, however, I felt no warm glow of doing the right thing, but rather an awful despair at the futility of it all.

I hope no-one who sends me a Christmas card is reading this, but the terrible truth is that I don't put them up on the mantelpiece, much less string them across the walls. I take the minimalist approach and they all sit in a pile on top of the piano awaiting recycling. At least I open them. The mother of an old girlfriend hated them so much that she would put the sealed envelopes straight into the bin because she couldn't bear the pressure. I just can't bear the clutter of endless cards all over the sitting room.

Crisis already does a nice line in advertising aimed at business asking them not to send pointless corporate cards but give it all the money instead.

Why don't we take the logic of this just one step further and give up on cards altogether? We could send the full cost of sending a card to our chosen charity, rather than the percentage that remains once the printers, distributors, sales staff and Royal Mail have had their cut. Christmas cards, after all, are a relatively recent innovation, dating back only as far as Victorian founder Henry Cole in the mid-19th century.

Unfortunately, this was still a half-formed thought as I paid at the charity Christmas shop, so I now have a pile in front of me which I may as well send out this year. A couple of them - sent through an excellent PEN initiative to writers in prison overseas - may even make a difference.

But if I still have any friends by Christmas 2003, consider yourselves warned. Don't take it personally, but I won't be adding to the litter in your drawing rooms.

PETER STANFORD, writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

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