‘There’s something special about writing out cards...’

TRADITION The Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth Christopher Foster
TRADITION The Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth Christopher Foster

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AS I write this Christmas message, I am in the process of writing and sending lots of Christmas cards.

Every year, my wife and I handwrite all these cards, and my wonderful colleagues in the office put them in envelopes, stamp them and send them out.

There’s no doubt that writing that many cards is a bit of a chore, especially when, like everyone else, I have so many other jobs to do at this time of the year.

So every year, someone well-meaning challenges me about my Christmas card list. Surely, they say, it’s too long? Surely we could get away with not sending cards to this person or that person?

Surely I could stop handwriting them, and have my name printed instead to save time?

That way my colleagues could be stuffing envelopes at their leisure from October onwards, and everyone would be spared the last-minute rush that comes with trying to meet the last post before Christmas.

But to me, attractive as it can be to save time, that totally misses the point.

Christmas is important precisely because we do take the time to remember one another in person.

Sometimes in my more indignant moments, I wonder how different the Christmas story would be if, instead of taking time to turn up in person to the crib, the wise men had stayed at home and arranged for a servant to run around and drop off a message or a gift on their behalf.

Perhaps these days the shepherds would have stayed out there in the fields tending their flocks, and just dropped a text message to Mary and Joseph, or tweeted their delight at the new birth.

At the risk of sounding old fashioned, in an age of emails and instant messaging and electronic communication, there’s something important and special about doing the job properly: turning up in person with a gift if we possibly can, or sending a handwritten card instead of a tweet or a text.

When, in the approach to Christmas, I go around the diocese visiting people who have had a particularly difficult year, or members of the clergy who are unwell, I have been deeply moved by their response to me.

People have cried (in a good way I hope!) when they’ve seen me, because they do not expect me to take the time out to spend half an hour with them.

But especially at Christmas, it’s important that people who, through ill health or personal circumstances are out of sight, should not be out of mind.

This is the time of the year when we need to remember people around us who are perhaps less visible to us – to put the best possible food in the food bank so that people who are struggling financially can enjoy a really good Christmas meal; to knock on the door of neighbours we rarely see; to write cards to people we haven’t managed to make contact with since last Christmas.

So, as I devote much of this week to writing well over a 1,000 Christmas cards, and as I prepare to visit just a few of the people who I know are struggling with life this year before I celebrate Christmas itself with my family, I wonder how you might show your care this Christmas?

I wonder who you might support with a little of your time, perhaps with a gift if you are able, or a card to say that they are in your thoughts.

Christmas is something that unites all Christians as we recall together the miracle of God choosing to be born on Earth as a vulnerable baby.

So, with my fellow church leaders, I offer my best wishes for a very blessed Christmas.