Christmas soon here

Martin Browning offers a preseason warm-up on cards and round-robins and the righteous pitfalls to be avoided

Christmas may soon be upon us. I say 'may' because one day it won't; the last Christmas will have come and gone, though the singing will continue in a higher key, and the good news of great joy will be overwhelmingly glorious.

Let's start with the cards. Don't send them, your church may tell you this year; just send one to the whole congregation, and we will pin it on the board. This way you will save money, paper, time and all those worries in case you forget someone. Simple.

Missed greetings
You will also completely miss the people who go home (if they are away) or away (if they are home) for the whole of the holidays, and they won't know you have thought of them, but it won't matter because you haven't anyway. More important may be the shut-ins and singles who live on their own, for whom cards are the simplest and cheapest form of Christmas decoration. They also arrive over a period of three weeks; the recipients have some chance of picking them off the mat each morning and pausing to thank God for each friend in turn.

Or have they sent you a printed family newsletter complete with computer-generated graphics and a scribbled note at the bottom: 'Hope all's well. Will write in the New Year'?

Such annual epistles have had something of a bad press, often well deserved. They are easy to parody. Those which start with a discussion of the rapidity of time, continue with the increasing busyness of life and conclude with a mini-sermon on the latest tragedy, deserve all the panning they get. But they don't have to be bad; another friend, living alone, said how much she looked forward to all the news. So the next bit is mainly for those who write them. Turn the page if that's not you.

Let's get the first line right. Newspaper sub-editors are paid for (among other things) gripping headlines and riveting first paragraphs that make you know that you just have to read the next bit - and so on. For less intimate acquaintances, please just remind us painlessly who these people are that you write
about, why Charlie's job takes him to Peru every Easter, and what was that summer triumph or disaster that you think we can all remember.

A passionate request
We don't even mind two sides if it is attractively set out and good to read. Three might be a bit much. But above all:

You have a favourite charity on which you spend all your spare time and a bit more. The college or other institution (pressure group? hospice? prison?) is in immediate need of 377,000 to (a) repair the roof, (b) open a new wing, (c) take on four new workers, (d) save it from bankruptcy and prosecution, (e) bring the Gospel to Grimsby or (f) all five of these. OK; we sympathise.

But please don't mix up the Good News of giving at Christmas with a form to fill in saying what I enclose, that I am a UK taxpayer, and that my greatest wish is to receive quarterly updates until the Second Coming. This is not what it's all about.
Those on the receiving end, especially if they are real Christians, will have a small handful of good causes to which they contribute regularly, prayerfully and proportionately. They also get several kilos of unsolicited junk mail, complete with appeals, monthly or weekly. They don't need you to top up this quota of moral blackmail every December.

If they are your friends, it is good to stay in touch and know how and where you are and what you are doing. But they want to see you as a person, not an extension of some institution's development branch or fundraising committee. How would you react if they replied with a fiver and some gut-wrenching request for their daughter's piano lessons or a new football kit for their next-door-neighbour's grandson? Or (as it's Christmas, see above) an illuminated nativity scene for the roof of their house?

That is all I have to say this year. Quite soon now I hope to write my cards and letters imaginatively and considerately, and read yours with excitement and gratitude. Christmas is coming. Enjoy!

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