With the days getting shorter and the evenings longer, thoughts will soon turn to the Christmas festivities and how best to send best wishes for the season to friends, family and work colleagues. Indeed there are some who will effectively abstain from such like, preferring to take a basically agnostic approach to the Christian holiday. For those who do celebrate the season, what will be their preferred means of communication?

The traditional form of wishing people a "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" via cards seems to have long been in decline. Many see it as old fashioned in this digital age where technology has progressed so far that the written word is often foreign to many, both in their working lives and in their leisure time. Postage costs (in addition to the cost of the card itself) can make the expense seem excessive as the number of people to be contacted grows, especially when compared to the possible alternatives of using social media or electronic messaging. First class or second class stamps are pricey enough, but when many greetings cards these days seem to exceed the size constraints for ordinary postage, the cost escalates even further. When the friend lives overseas, then the cost grows even higher.

Sending cards also entails a delay before the card reaches its destination (if at all) and during the peak period around Christmas this can add additional time to the duration. Dates are published in advance of Christmas Day itself for when first class and second class cards should be posted to ensure delivery in time for the day itself. For those without good planning skills (or more likely simply with busy lives to lead), these can easily be missed and alternatives have to be considered instead (or perhaps the card is simply sent anyway but in the knowledge that it is likely to arrive late, so as to make the recipient confused as to whether it was next Christmas they were receiving best wishes of the season for or the present one !). With electronic transmission the message should reach the recipient within seconds rather than days.

Cards also require a physical (rather than electronic) address to be sent to. As Christmas may be the only time of the year when contact is made between some 'friends', the hunt for that elusive address book or the flap of last year's envelope containing a revised address may add to the stress of the season. Sometimes an address can not be located or the person may have moved, so the card goes astray (or the 'reciprocal' card may arrive that states a new address, too late to return the sentiment!). The non-receipt of a card from an 'old friend' at Christmas time may make people worried or sad, especially among the older generation, as it may imply that they have passed away. For those who are not part of the electronic age, they may have little option though than to rely on the card approach.

If an email address is known there is more certainty that the message will reach its intended recipient (unless of course the person changes that without letting their 'friends' know), as they are more 'portable' than a physical house or flat. The (more or less) instantaneous nature of the message allows a flow of correspondence to occur back and forth, adding to the interaction and timeliness. With text or instant messaging the message may need to be kept shorter, but in days when letter writing is not a major skill, many prefer the shorter contact approach. This too is a means to learn if a friend has 'moved on' (in terms of your 'friendship') if the number contacted is no longer recognised!

The question of what to do with the mass of Christmas cards received each year also raises the choice of whether to 'hoard' the card for safe keeping (perhaps to keep the message available) or how to dispose of them / recycle them. Electronic messages can be stored away as well and take a fraction of the 'physical space' and sparing a stray deletion key stroke, should be easier to locate when required.

Generic emails to friends at Christmas time allow the addition of attachments, which can be handy if a number of photos of family members are to be enclosed for viewing. This can save the sender time if the same message would apply to a number of people, but can make the sentiment a little impersonal for some. It can also become a bit like showing someone your old holiday snaps if not careful !

The choices at least of how best to pass on those Christmas best wishes are much increased on those in the (not so distant) past and that is without perhaps the best of all, a face to face conversation or failing that a phone call.

Joyeux Noel (in advance) to us all, whatever your culture or creed and however you choose to pass the message on !