A couple of days after Christmas Day itself and it’s time for the annual festive card analysis with its accompanying reflections and phobias. We had a total of 60 this year, fewer than in recent years, although I am now a retired Priest and out of the local church social loop. And the number is a fair random sample of what’s in and out in the seasonal greetings card trends.

39 cards had no direct links with the Christmas story or reference to the baby of Bethlehem who was the Saviour of the world, the official reason for this midwinter gluttonalia. 7 featured churches and carol singers (pleasing to note that choir robes are still in fashion, although concerned about the effect that singing in a snow covered churchyard will have on them. Snow and winter scenes abound (8 of them) which is fair enough since the Christian Christmas replaced the northern hemisphere solstice festivals and Roman saturnalia – a fair compromise for non-religious friends to send.

If my sample is anything to go, by candles are having a bad year (one solitary flickering flame on a single Christmas card) and wildlife is in - is this the David Attenborough effect? In addition to the two partridges in a pair tree there were 6 other winter birds, a donkey, dog and two reindeer to brighten my celebrations.

The rest portrayed holly, a twinkling star and a Christmas pudding. I have not mentioned the large glossy card from a member of the aristocracy because it was a most kind personal gesture and not one I should single out for further comment. That one, naturally, sported a picture of the latest painting to adorn their gallery.

With secular Christmas out of the way, we can focus on the thirty per cent of our cards which told us what we need to know about the “real” Christmas. 12 were of manger scenes with many of the traditional items that are actually never mentioned in the Bible nativity stories although it would be churlish to imagine a card with no cattle, oxen, no wooden outside stable, and three kingly visitors who have turned up earlier than expected. 6 cards reproduced vintage artist’s concepts of the scene, reminding us that the trappings of the nativity are far from Twenty-first century inventions. It is these scenes of the Mother and Christ-child which remind us of the beauty of the Incarnation but offer a warning for us not to make Bethlehem so clinical that is becomes unreal.

If I have spotted a trend correctly this year, angels are in short supply. Just one card featured a lone winged messenger blowing a golden trumpet (which I had never noticed before in Luke’s gospel). Which left me musing about what the rest of the heavenly host was up to at the moment.

Unlike Scrooge and his humbug I know I should be grateful for these 60 greetings from far and near with their mix of sacred and secular festive, seasonal messages. In a few days they’ll be heading for the charity card recycling collection – except, perhaps, for one. Not the “aristocratic” super-card but one produced by a

Methodist Primary school in Manchester, designed by Alfie Spink, a great-nephew who should be proud of his modern art rendition of the Little Town of Bethlehem where it all began.

The Rev'd Paul Needle, Diocesan webmaster