Q: Since it is that time of year again, I thought you might be interested in commenting on several social situations that may arise in this, and perhaps no other, holiday season.
First, should one send a Christmas card to a person with whom one was formerly romantically involved, and with whom one is slightly interested in maintaining natural friendship (as opposed to casual enmity), but not at all interested in resuming intimacy?
Conversely (sort of), should one send a card to a person whom one has not known long, but wishes to know better, romantically or otherwise?
And finally, are there people to whom one never sends Christmas cards? I would be pleased to have you expostulate on the rules governing Christmas cards and their recipients; also, you might suggest some suitable language.
A: One does not--one should try not to--send Christmas cards to people who are likely to say, upon receiving them, "Good heavens--you thought these were my friends? I thought they were yours. Well, then, who on earth do you suppose they are, and why have we been exchanging Christmas cards with them for the past 12 years?"
The effect one should strive for is, rather, "Oh, how nice. You know, I really like them so much, and it's a shame we're not in touch more often."
The rule, then, is not only that one does not push one's written greetings on near-strangers, but that it is superfluous to send cards to people to whom one has had ample opportunity of conveying Christmas pleasantries face to face.
Lest you mistake her, Miss Manners hastens to state that she is entirely in favor of the wide disbursement of good holiday wishes. When the holiday is upon us (it would sound odd in Indian summer), you may even call out cheerful greetings to passing strangers, and you may certainly repeat them often to your entire circle of acquaintances.
What you should try to avoid is making your cards a burden, rather than a pleasure. By all means, send them to all you think will be pleased to know that you are thinking of them and wishing them well.
Does this include a former sweetheart? Probably, but only you can judge that accurately. If you left that person raw and suffering, desperately hoping for some tiny sign that the romance can be resumed, no communication, no matter how impeccably virtuous on the surface, is a kindness, and you know it.
It should certainly include a prospective friend or sweetheart, provided he is likely to meet Miss Manners' minimum standard of recognizing your name. If not, you haven't lost anything, as the relationship was not as promising as you had assumed.
In any case where there is uncertainty, conventional wording is best. The beauty of conventions is exactly that they are in general usage and are not therefore easily analyzed to ascertain the exact emotions of the sender. "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" is the usual phrase, although it is more delicate to omit merriment and happiness when addressing the bereaved ("I just wanted you to know that I was thinking of you," and to omit Christmas when addressing those who do not celebrate it ("Best wishes of the season").
Now that Miss Humbug has pared your Christmas list, allow her to suggest that you apply some of that kindly fervor to writing charming notes during the rest of the year to people you think might like to receive them.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.