Lynda Hallinan sows a little extra cheer this festive season by slipping seeds into her Christmas cards and tree decorations.
seeds of Christmas cheer
Is it really better to give than to receive? As a perennial Christmas card-posting procrastinator, I couldn’t possibly comment on that.
Last year, I only got one Christmas card in the mail. It had a New York postmark. “But I don’t know anyone in New York,” I thought as, intrigued, I ripped open the envelope.
It turns out I did know someone in New York. One person. A dapper young raconteur with impeccable manners, an erudite turn of phrase and surprisingly elegant handwriting for a man of his age. It was from TVNZ Breakfast host Jack Tame, thanking me for my weekly gardening contributions to his Saturday morning show on Newstalk ZB, and crediting me with the continued survival of the potted Aloe vera plant he kept in his Big Apple apartment.
I blushed, and thinking about it now makes me blush even more because, despite having the best of intentions, I never did get around to sending a Christmas card back to Jack.
Discussing this recently with a fellow scribe, we agreed that Christmas cards bring nothing but joy, glad tidings and an enduring sense of shame to those of us who routinely fail to return the favour. “I feel guilt every time I receive a Christmas card,” my colleague confessed, “but apparently not guilty enough to actually do something about it!”
Perhaps it’s indicative of society’s slipping standards, for when I was growing up, the giving and receiving of Christmas cards was more than a polite holiday season ritual. It was an illustration of your social standing in the community, a festive straw-poll of your family’s popularity.
Most years, my parents received enough cards to necessitate the clearing of knick-knacks from the mantelpieces in both our lounge and family room, but when we’d visit our neighbours on Christmas Eve to trade chocolate fudge (from us) for lolly log (from them), I couldn’t help but notice that Mr and Mrs Massey always had heaps more than us.
My husband Jason’s late grandparents, Fred and Adeline, were quite competitive Christmas correspondents. My husband can recall looking up in awe at their colossal annual crop of cards, hung on strings that stretched between the roof beams inside their farmhouse, rather like fairground bunting.
Another childhood memory: in the days leading ever closer to December 25, my mum would get decidedly twitchy when she was collecting our mail. It set her nerves on edge to get a last-minute card from someone she’d missed off her own list. More often than not, as well as decorating the tree, wrapping presents, whipping brandy butter, milking cows and making hay, she’d have to nip off to the Tuakau Post Office to ensure any late cards were appropriately postmarked, at least.
The tradition of sending Christmas cards dates back to 1843, when civil servant Sir Henry Cole came up with a cunning plan to bolster the fledgling British postal service’s profits. He commissioned the first festive greeting card, illustrated by artist John Callcott Horsley, in an effort to entice more customers to use the Penny Post. By the 1870s, when the cost of posting a card was slashed to half a penny, Christmas cards were being mass-produced by the million.
Even with the incursion of email, Hallmark Cards still sells billions of cards globally each year, with more than half their annual sales chalked up in the weeks before Christmas.>>
“Cards were a festive straw-poll of your family’s popularity.”
Sometimes I wish I was one of those crafty mums who make their own Christmas cards, decorating them with pressed flowers, scrapbooking stickers and their children’s kindergarten art. But then I remember my ill-fated teenage enterprise crafting gifts from handmade paper.
Having spent weeks pulping paper and pressing blue lobelia petals into gift cards and bespoke stationery, I remember that my sister looked singularly unimpressed when she unwrapped her handmade Christmas photo album. And, months later, I had to berate my mother when I found her notepad languishing, unused, at the bottom of her handbag. (She tried to fob me off by saying that it was much too special to actually use, but I was having none of it.)
It’s fair to say that my hand-pulped gifts were about as gratefully received as the cyclostyled round-robin family newsletters that were enclosed in many Christmas cards of old. You know the sort, where every second-cousin twice-removed is graduating with honours or spawning child prodigies, while all the juicy goss – from unfaithful husbands to potsmoking progeny – is completely censored from the annual skite-sheet.
When my grandmother Patricia was alive, she’d slip a fiver into the Christmas cards she sent, without fail, to every one of her 35 grandchildren, but I prefer to pop in a packet of seeds to sow. I buy an extra few packets of each of my favourite varieties – from bee-friendly wildflowers to scented sweet peas – to share with friends.
On that note, New Zealand Post has beaten me to the punch this festive season with a range of Grow Your Own stamps. Their limited edition stamps are embedded with basil, carrots, parsley, chives, broccoli and lettuce seeds.
I just hope Santa doesn’t feel too disappointed if the basil stamps my children have stuck to their Christmas wish-lists don’t germinate particularly well in his North Pole glasshouse.
Use a funnel to fill clear glass baubles with seeds, then replace the top.