An open letter to friends on my Christmas card list…

Here’s something radical – if you’re someone that I normally send a christmas card and we’re in regular contact via the internet or in the flesh, I’m not going to send you one this year. There, I said it. Now I’ve mentally adopted the crash position in anticipation of a chorus of “boo-ing” but, I can assure you, its nothing to do with “baa-humbug”.

For several years now, I’ve cringed at all the wastage of Christmas, the endless packaging, the “extra-special” wrappers put on everyday food to make it look more festive, the unnecessary fripperies manufactured for an apparently captive market and then all the unwanted wrapping paper and cards as the most glaring example of pointless waste. Maybe a day looked at under the tree, seconds spent being admired and then, bam, all that colourful paper is shredded off in some sort of sacrificial gesture and, by 11 o’ clock on Christmas morning, two or more huge sacks of waste paper stand like dark sentries by my back door. According to the Independent, in the UK alone, “83 square kilometres of wrapping paper will…be thrown out or burnt – enough to gift-wrap the island of Jersey”. What is all that about?

Last year, we tried a different route – we use either recycled or unused paper from the years before or – a novel approach that we continue to use for birthdays – we tie things up in the collection of mad ribbons that I hoard or decorate large cardboard boxes to put more than one thing in. This new tradition actually gets quite creative, our dog gets to wear the ribbons afterwards and its a lot of fun inciting “non-creative” family members to join in the ingenuity plus there’s considerably less waste. Besides, Christmas is a lot less excessive, far more well-considered for us these days, which means we don’t have mountains of gifts or food packaging any more but that’s a whole other story…

So why are the cards now taking a hit in my ongoing sweep through conscious consumerism? Well, it had been bothering me for some time how useless they are – really, they are – and how all this effort goes in to writing something highly unoriginal inside a folded piece of paper, buying (probably) my only stamps of the year and then sending it off in exchange for an equivalent piece of folded paper from the same person who – most likely – there’s no dialogue with, no effort to meet up, at any other time of year or, other extreme, we see or have access to each other almost daily via the internet so why bother to “go antiquated” and use snail-mail all of a sudden.

Meanwhile, last year, I didn’t even bother putting more than a handful “up” on display, given we’ve adopted a far more uncluttered Christmas decor these days. A quick smile and a nod and they are filed away in a sort of Christmas communication pile for occasional checking to make sure we’ve duly reciprocated each and every one or risk excommunication from auntie so-and-so (and when card-reciprocation becomes nothing more than a social duty, that really is when it looses its original point).

Some of those far-flung relatives, especially of an older generation, may have to stay on our list for a little longer as not everyone uses Facebook and its lovely (and so important) to keep in touch with the broader family, especially elderly relatives that live alone. But really, the rest of my friends and family will surely understand I have a strong viewpoint on this or, well, if they don’t that says a lot about the relationship we have.

Yet, even up to this point, I could feel myself wavering, vacillating, not sure if I had the nerve to pull this off…which says such a lot about how this has turned into social conditioning with an iron-like grip rather than something that people do because they really want to. At least a month ago, I was braced to make this announcement and pop a few emails off to people telling them my decision and then I lost my nerve as, I think, a lot of us do when it comes to following the heart in matters that go against the cultural grain; its so hard to be the one to break the trend, especially if that trend is deeply ingrained in our cultural and, especially, family and group behaviour as doing what is expected feels like our ticket to being included, accepted and welcomed within those tribes. The societal pressure to conform to these kinds of habits is soooooo incredibly powerful that it can become a visceral thing, literally pushing you to that till with the pack of cards in your hand, like a very firm hand is on your back, even when you told yourself you weren’t going to do that anymore. “What the hell”, we tell ourselves, “I might not believe in this stuff anymore but it keeps everyone happy and off my back” but who is it that’s really on your back making you do these things, is it them or is it just you;  is it just your own unfounded fear that the world will crash and burn if you do things differently to have you’ve been conditioned to behave?

We all know that the only people to benefit, really, are the card manufacturers and, even when some of the money goes to charity, yes even if the paper source is deemed “sustainable”, there is huge wastage of carbon resources, ink and processing chemicals, transportation, packaging, all the resources involved in delivery door to door…Again, according to the Independent, the billion or more cards sent each year in the UK alone “laid end to end, would stretch around the world five times” and many (many) of these end up burned or in landfill. There are so many other ways to say Merry Christmas to people than by becoming part of this and I, personally, prefer to send the money I save straight to my charity of choice, which is exactly what I plan to do this morning.

If I was wavering any further (and I was…) a recent annoyance came to a head for me this morning and delivered its very clear message in a way that I, literally couldn’t just step over it or around it anymore. By unsubscribing from many of the businesses that used to bombard me with printed materials by post, my morning delivery of mail is pretty conservative these days but I’ve been noticing this step up again as the festive season approaches. Take this morning…one actual delivery with my name on it and FIVE unsolicited flyers advertising local supermarkets, special offers, seasonal promotions, information about things that have no relevance to me…all walked straight to my recycling bin. Pretty much the same thing happens every morning these days – five sixths or more of my post goes straight into the bucket unread; what a waste, it makes me gnash my teeth with frustration but not as much as what happened next.

Dump 2

I went to one of my favourite places for my walk this morning, a beautiful circuit of bridle paths and farm tracks with horses nodding over fences through the last of the autumn leaves as robins sing in the hedgerow. Then I turned a corner and was confronted by three sizeable mountains of flyers, leaflets, mini-catalogues and all the typical unsolicited ‘junk’ of the morning mail, dumped (presumably) by an employee of the delivery firm or printers who just couldn’t be bothered to get rid of them in any responsible method, even though the municipal paper recycling is just a fifteen minute away and they must have gone to some lengths to get their vehicle down this track. Already, this waste was spreading far and wide into ditches, trees and farmers fields, I feel so sad and helpless to my core when I see dumping like this, which is remarkably often (and not always paper goods…). The best I can ‘do with it is use it as  the shove that I need to do what I can, personally, to withdraw my part in the culture that feeds the over-production of this kind of waste.

DumpAnd THIS is why I have lost all faith in a culture that puts so much stock upon paper communication (even though so few people pay attention to it anymore that I am incredulous that household name companies continue to invest in it as advertising policy). In proportion to how little we value it, we dump it and (in so many cases) we dump irresponsibly with no care whatsoever for the environmental impact. In a technological age, when so many other opportunities to say “hello” to each other are right there at our fingertips, it beats me why we still open ourselves up to the inevitable pitfalls of this obsolete method of communicating and trusting that people will do the right thing once it is out of our hands; why be part of this when we can be more conscious about the part we play in it?

As I keep on saying, BE the change that you want to see in the world; this is truly how we start to make a difference.

So, with not a single iota of “bah humbug” intended, I choose to stop this tired old behaviour pattern in its tracks in my world and then, in the least environmentally impactful way I can manage, wish everyone an extremely wonderful festive season; and may your bins be as light as ever they have been come the fresh New Year.


High environmental price of a very merry Christmas

10 common Christmas card dilemmas

25 eco-friendly Christmas tips

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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