Lynda Hal­li­nan:

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.

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