Christmas seems to me the most preposterous process of emotional line-drawing and dread.
'Advent' turns out not to mean anticipating the coming of the Lord — or even Father Christmas. Or rather the true meaning of 'anticipation' is searching nightly through the contents of your soul, memory and wallet for a full month, while trying to hold down a job, and cope with everyone else's unfiltered greed (if they are children) or unmitigated disappointment (if they are adults).
All through December I feel I am wading through the treacle of my own and everyone else's expectations and anxieties. I am measuring myself up, working out what didn't get done, what I hoped would happen and didn't, combing back over the year in a cloud of sadness for time lost, and by extension, sifting through all the previous years, now gone for ever. We are all working and living a kind of double time, trying to fit in everyone else's activities (aka hopes and dreams), heading like lemmings for a national exodus to the privacy of The Family.
Then follows a short period of slow cooked friction, fuelled by alcohol, chocolate and television, searching for love. Ultimately there is an outburst of some kind, then the mass tramp home, chastened.
Finally there is the scramble for a New Year's party, in order to wash away the previous four weeks of expiation and worry in one glorious sousing (or there is the sense of rejection and exclusion if no party is forthcoming), and finally we are all spat out, wrung dry, impoverished and having to do our tax returns on the far side.
From here on in I have decided not to send Christmas cards. They epitomise the process I've just described. First you must choose the right kind of card to express your values (Charity? Children's drawing? Photo of loving family? Multi-pack? Individual i.e. expensive?), then decide whether or not to write a long or a short message (long = boasting about one's exploits and holidays; short = no time or bare remembrance of recipient), then queue in the disintegrating post office to hand over wads of cash to ensure the pieces of card make it. Then bump into the person you have just sent a card to. Or be fated never to see the people you were once so close to, who now live thousands of miles away. The card has to stand in for the whole of that past, together with the intervening years in which you have become unknown to each other. Christmas cards are bound up with that process of atonement, mourning, and denial, which is what Christmas seems to be.
Instead I will send electronic New Year's Cards. Instant gratification, no need for long screeds, an image selected from the mass of the previous year's doings, a wish for the future, and not a longing for a past that can never come again (and was never what you remember when it was the present).
I can probably be accused of bad faith — perhaps that advent process is exactly what is needed in order to experience the liberation of the year turning. Ah well, there's always next year.