As frequently – perhaps tediously – mentioned I love the Mapp and Lucia books by E. F. Benson. Every two or three years I once again immerse myself in the comings and goings of the good citizens of Tilling and environs; delighting once again in their crises, machinations and foibles. Even the most trivial event, such as choosing a Christmas card, can become a matter of Machiavellian manoeuvres and social importance. And though I quoted from this passage previously, as an introduction to a post on the origins of the Christmas Card, I always find it raises a wry smile as I picture the scene in my head.
The pleasant custom of sending Christmas cards prevailed in Tilling, and most of the world met in the stationer’s shop on Christmas Eve, selecting suitable salutations from the threepenny, the sixpenny and the shilling trays. Elizabeth came in rather early and had almost completed her purchases when some of her friends arrived, and she hung about looking at the backs of volumes in the lending-library, but keeping an eye on what they purchased. Diva, she observed, selected nothing from the shilling tray any more than she had herself; in fact, she thought that Diva’s purchases this year were made entirely from the threepenny tray. Susan, on the other hand, ignored the threepenny tray and hovered between the sixpennies and the shillings and expressed an odiously opulent regret that there were not some ‘choicer’ cards to be obtained. The Padre and Mrs Bartlett were certainly exclusively threepenny, but that was always the case. However they, like everybody else, studied the other trays, so that when, next morning, they all received seasonable coloured greetings from their friends, a person must have a shocking memory if he did not know what had been the precise cost of all that were sent him. But Georgie and Lucia as was universally noticed, though without comment, had not been in at all, in spite of the fact that they had been seen about in the High Street together and going into other shops. Elizabeth therefore decided that they did not intend to send any Christmas cards and before paying for what she had chosen, she replaced in the threepenny tray a pretty picture of a robin sitting on a sprig of mistletoe which she had meant to send Georgie. There was no need to put back what she had chosen for Lucia, since the case did not arise.
Mapp and Lucia
E. F. Benson
One of the surprises of this Christmastide was to see that there seems to be a resurgence in the “pleasant custom of sending Christmas cards” by post. (As a sidebar isn’t it odd to think that there was even post on Christmas Day in England of the 1920s.) Though we received a number of lovely and very welcome e-mail cards, for the first time in many years we also received a goodly number of beautiful greetings by post of the kind that Mapp, Diva, the good Padre and Evie sent. In the past ten years it seemed their numbers had dwindle to six or seven but this year we ended up with twenty-five. And having them on the mantels and shelves – something a bit difficult to do with e-mail greetings – added an extra festive air to the house.
We’ve decided that perhaps it is a custom worth reviving in our household. During our years in Aylmer I created our own cards and again that may well be something to consider for Christmases yet to come. In the meantime I thought I’d share three of the very lovely cards we received this Christmastide.
From two of our friends here in Charlottetown. We’re not sure where this would be perhaps the barracks near to Fanningbank?
For well over 30 years Christmases we have received a card from our friend Ron and each one has been a gem. He is an artist of unbounded imagination and each year we’ve looked forward to a new example of his work at Christmas. This year he and Gord’s card is based on an acrylic from a series Ron is working on based on artifacts found during digs at Fort St Joseph on Lake Huron.
And keeping with “ye olde Canadiana” theme this card arrived from the University of Guelph, McLaughlin Library which has a wealth of Canadian theatrical memorabilia including several costume designs I donated a few years back.
Perhaps like us people are rediscovering that there is a certain joy in retrieving an envelope from the post box, examining the return address and announcing “we got a card from ….”, opening and admiring the design, reading the wishes that the senders have wished for us and ours, and then placing it where it can be seen during the holiday season as a reminder of friends and family. When I think of it that way I honestly believe it is a tradition that should, no must be revived.
On this day in 1907: The first New Year’s Eve celebration is held in Times Square (then known as Longacre Square) in Manhattan.