my decision not to send Christmas cards is a complicated one, let me explain…

Over the years I have increasingly become uncomfortable about my habitual christmas card sending, for many many reasons – some ethical, some practical. I certainly haven’t explained to anyone those complex strata of thoughts. They are so layered they are hard to untangle, but I will try.

It’s interesting to see others going through the same enquiry, including friend and colleague Claire Gulliver. Claire has written a great description of her thought processes on her blog. Here’s the start of it:

“Now is that time of year when I consider doing something morally dubious. I start to think about writing some Christmas cards.

I’m not sure exactly when making a charitable donation and giving Christmas cards became ethical opposites, but I do both and it makes me feel sad.”

Claire’s conclusion is that one can do both and there are advantages of doing so. I couldn’t agree more, I believe some people can. I made the decision not to send cards and give the money saved to charity instead after a mass of contemplation that has been going on for years.

My conclusion is that if I felt passionately about Christmas, i.e. if I was a Christian, there would be no dilemma. But I’m not. And increasingly this capitalist spend-fest has alienated me more and more. I’ve never been a great fan (this photo gives evidence!)

obligatory xmas pic

I feel assaulted by ‘Christmas’ and all it demands I do. I don’t mean the cards – ironically – they are the best bit – I mean everything else. The shopping from September, the pipe musak, the pressure to spend spend spend, the tat, the queues in shops as people prepare to be under siege when the shops close – for ONE DAY.

I’m not a Christian but if I was, I would be even more offended. It has become a theme park.

But back to the cards, I have a lot to say about that. I studied art to masters level, but rarely make art now. For the past 10 years or so, Christmas has been the only time I buckle down and make my own cards. They are usually photographs, but not always. I’ve popped a few in below (not the best ones, which are stashed on a hard drive somewhere), but they are ok.  They can take several days to evolve the idea. Then another to format the damned printer to print on the plain cards I buy online. But that’s fine. They have been little mini works of art.

But another issue is the writing. Those who know me well will know my handwriting has always been appalling, almost illegible. Cyril in my post office certainly does. No matter how carefully I write the name and address on my letters, when I get to the counter he will invariably ask me to translate some words for him. This experience is awful for me, him and for my readers.

A few years ago a dear friend died and I wrote a heartfelt letter to her closest friend, in condolence. A few weeks afterwards, that friend asked me if I had written to her. I nodded, and she told me she was uanble to read it because of the handwriting. I was devastated.

That year, I bought some children’s handwriting learning packs, I worked on my scripting, and tried to understand my failure to be able to write properly. I spent weeks doing this, and videoed my activity every time. When I started the process, I suspected that my hand could mechanically not keep up with my thinking. I was wrong. It turned out that if I slowed my hand down, really slowed it down, I could form beautiful letters, curves and tails all aligned and flowing. But that created a tension, because I am an impetuous person, when I have an idea or emotion I rush to record it, save it, relish the thoughts. But my writing is not up to the task. Handwriting as meditation is a beautiful thing.

I’m left-handed, as a child I was punished for that. Teachers rapped my knuckles and scolded me for smudging the ink. Writing became a place of fear for me. Computers freed me from that and I found my voice, my words can be tipped out quite quickly and re-ordered and edited without bruised knuckles and shame.

Back to the cards, sorry, my mind goes overboard with all of these thoughts. But the thoughts have consequences and not sending cards is one of them.

Computers also allowed me to print address labels for cards – great, now Cyril won’t complain! But they also made me a bit sad, they turned a personal message and greeting into a business envelope.

I made a film about handwriting and how signficant it is that we use handwriting for messages of intimacy. And how that intimacy is undetected if the writing is illegible. It was made for the Tbilisi Biennale and the viewer understands the words they cannot read through a series of processes – viewing the hand writing the letter, reading english subtitles and listening to a Georgian voiceover.

Since then I vowed to make hand designed cards on my computer.

So……this year, no cards from me. I am struggling with it. But am glad I have made a min-campaign of it and begun to fund things. I do support campaigns quite regularly and I think crowdfunding is a good austerity measure for many. I designed my e-card – though it’s certainly not my most beautiful card and I have no desire to print it. I dislike e-cards myself, but this was a message carrier, not a pretend card. It is instead of a card for those physical reasons. I could hardly send a card with that message, it would contradict itself!

And I agree with Claire wholeheartedly about keeping in touch with people once a year, feeling warm and snug in front of my virtual (electric) fire. But sorry, I’ve had it with Christmas as a buying fest. I will meet up with as many friends and family as I can, or Skype or phone. Not instead of cards, but better than cards.

And I haven’t even mentioned the political things, the environmental waste etc. Claire’s blog post prompted me to think about the personal benefits and she’s right, if you can park all the stuff above (which clearly I can’t) then do both. It’s just not for me. And sometimes one has to take a stance.

Have a lovely holiday x

Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

One thought on “my decision not to send Christmas cards is a complicated one, let me explain…

  1. Hi Carolyn. Thanks for writing this. I very much enjoyed reading such a privileged insight into your thought processes around Christmas cards. Thank you for sharing. It’s setting me thinking again and perhaps I’ll explore it further next year. It seems such a surprising thing to have become such fraught ground.
    Happy holidays!


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