Melanie McDonagh

The truth about Christmas card virtue signallers

The truth about Christmas card virtue signallers
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If there is one thing to raise the spirits at this time of year, it’s the sound of a letterbox rattling open and the satisfying thud of post on the mat. Along with the creditors’ letters, there is quite likely to be a few envelopes pleasingly suggestive of robins and snow scenes. 

Yep, the Christmas cards have arrived, from the organised, as early as the beginning of December, to the ones delivered on Christmas Eve, plainly as a response to the one you sent the recipient a couple of days before. All are cheering, all suggestive of goodwill, all more or less reflective of the personality of the sender. Obviously they’re environmentally unsound, even if they’re recycled, but stuff it. A card for birthday and Christmas isn’t going to deforest Britain.

And just as the physical sound of a physical envelope lifts the spirits, the following email will have the equal and contrary effect: 

'Phyllis and Ariadne will not be sending Christmas cards this year; instead they will donate the costs of the card and postage to charity.' 

For terminally irritating pseudo-ethical swank this is only surpassed by that even more dispiriting message, usually delivered by card: 

'We know that you are a lucky little boy or girl and so we are giving the price of your present to this excellent charity supporting child refugees.' 

My children once got a card like that when we were not particularly well-off and would have quite liked some socks; it is insufferable delivered to an adult, unforgivable to a child.

But what’s to like about the officious message to say you’re not getting a Christmas card? I actually don’t mind people saying that they think there’s an absurd cost to cards. Then there’s the even worse cost of postage – before prices go up again in January, it’s 76p for a first class stamp and 65p for a second (and some people are sorrowfully observing that the amount of letters we’re sending is going down…it’s cause and effect here). One friend who’s generous but thrifty observed indignantly that you could easily spend fifty quid on Christmas cards, and frankly there are better ways of spending it. She gave up sending cards when she found out the risible proportion of the proceeds from her charity Christmas cards that actually went to charity.

Nope, it’s not the not-sending that’s so irritating about that email. It’s that they’re foisting their bloody acts of charity on their friends and making a virtue of the fact that they can’t be bothered to buy, write and send Christmas cards. If they want to make a Christmas donation to charity that is nothing short of dandy, and I applaud this true Christmas spirit. But don’t tell me about it. Our Lord wisely observed that when it comes to giving, our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing, so shut the blazes up about what you’re donating, and to whom. I can deduce quite a bit already from the good causes your charity cards are supporting.

So if you get that email from Phyllis and Ariadne, you know what to do. Cross them off your own Christmas card list, and mentally register them as ethical showoffs. And I hope you derive as much pleasure as I do from a mantelpiece crowded with Christmas puddings, polar bears and Madonnas.