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All about Christmas cards

The tradition of Christmas cards began in Britain in the time of Queen Victoria - over 170 years ago ; it is still going well today, even if the number of cards sent each year in Britain is a lot less than it was before the age of mobile phones, email and social media. 
Christmas cards

 Still a big tradition

 Christmas cards are a big tradition in the English-speaking world. In 2017, people in Britain sent and received about 900 million cards. That's an average of about twelve cards for every person, from tiny babies to the oldest grandparents.
   The number of cards that are sent around Britain causes an annual headache for the postal service. Each year, the postal service has to take on seasonal staff to help with the extra mail, and postal sorting offices are stretched to their maximum capacity and sometimes beyond it.
    In 1994, before the age of email and social media, the service handled about 1.6 billion cards! – about 25 cards per person in Great Britain, including children!)  In spite of advertisements telling people to "Post Early for Christmas", few people get round to sending off their cards before December 10th; and from that point on, the postal service slows down.
    Until the age of faxes, emails and social media, the pre-Christmas period often caused a lot of problems for firms and industry, as "urgent" letters and documents took several days to reach their destination by post, slowed down by the mass of Christmas mail!

    During the month of December in Britain, a house with no Christmas cards is like a pub with no beer; it just does not exist  except possibly at the home of a few radical non-Christians. For the most part, however, people of all faiths and of no faith join in the tradition of celebrating Christmas as a festival, whether they do so for religious reasons or not.
    Christmas cards are an important part of the celebrations, and virtually any British home one goes into around Christmas time is merrily decorated not just with holly and mistletoe and paper decorations, but also with a display of Christmas cards, received from friends, family, neighbours, employers and a variety of other people.
    In some places, the number of Christmas cards people receive is seen as a measure of their status among their friends and neighbours.
    "Look at them, Cynthia dear," says Norma Jones, showing her cards to her neighbour who's just come round for a chat. "How many have you got so far? We've got a hundred and three already."
    "Oh my darling," replies Cynthia, "Is that all? We've got over a hundred and fifty! There's not much room left in the lounge to put them all up.... And you know, I was at Margaret's this morning, and they've hardly got any! They can't have many friends, can they?"

    The first cards are usually put up on the mantelpiece above the fire in the lounge; then as more come in, any available flat surface is put to use: bookshelves, the top of the T.V., window-sills, the top of any cupboard.
    In some houses, cards are hung on ribbons on the wall, either vertically or in long arcs across the wall.
    If the living room fills up, more cards are hung or placed in other rooms and in the hall. By Christmas time, the main rooms in almost any house are gaily festooned with cards of all shapes and sizes.

    While cheap Christmas cards can be bought from any supermarket, cards have recently become a major source of income for all sorts of charities. Many people like to feel that they are doing something good by buying Christmas cards, and charities like Oxfam*, W.W.F., Cancer Research and Greenpeace (to name but a few) now sell millions of cards each Christmas.
    As for the subjects of Christmas cards, the range, today, is enormous. At one time, two principal themes predominated : the Christmas story, with pictures of the nativity and biblical scenes; and "traditional Christmas", with imaginary scenes of Christmas as it might have been in the past (but rarely was!), with lots of clean snow on the ground, burning wood fires, horses and carriages and well-fed happy-looking people. Today, while the traditional themes are still popular, there is no limit to the variety of pictures on cards.

    The tradition of Christmas cards began in Britain in 1843, just after the introduction of the first national postal service, the "penny post", which started in 1840. Today, almost 200 years later, Christmas cards– sometimes known as New Year cards – are a tradition all over the world, and not only in Christian countries.
  And while more and more people send e-cards and Christmas selfies to their friends and family... and even to all their "friends" on Facebook, virtual cards are not the same as old-fashioned traditional Christmas cards. You can't hang an e-card on the wall, and you can't decorate a room with rows of e-cards. Thanks to phones and tablets, we can do lots of things better than we could do them before. But sending and receiving Christmas cards is still best done by "snail mail", using a real card and a real envelope. It's much more fun.

Word guide
middle number - headache: big problem - take on: employ - staff: employees - mail: letters, etc - sorting office: where letters are sorted by destination - advertisements:ads, publicity - faith: belief - holly: a plant with dark green leaves and red berries - mistletoe: a plant with white berries - status: social position - a chat: a talk - lounge: living room - mantelpiece: shelf above a fire - available: that can be used - festooned: decorated - income: money - charities: associations which help other people or things - range: variety - nativity: birth of Jesus - biblical : from the Bible - introduction : beginning - old-fashioned : traditional - snail mail : the postal service (as opposed to email)
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All about Christmas cards

Exercise 1.  Put the words back in the right order.
Here are some sentences from the article; the word order has got mixed up. Put the words back into the right order.

    1.    no like Christmas with a beer house with cards is no a pub 

    2.    you how got so far many have ?

    3.    lounge the room there's in much not left 

    4.    Christmas and receiving done "snail mail" is by sending cards still best

Exercise 2.  Replace the following prepositions in the extract below,

around, before, beyond, by, down, down, for, for, for, from, in, of, of, of, of, of, of, off, on, on, per,  round, to, to, to, to, to, to, with, until
        The number  cards that are sent  Britain causes an annual headache  the postal service. Each year, the postal service has  take  seasonal staff  help  the extra mail, and postal sorting offices are stretched  their maximum capacity   and sometimes  it. In 1994  the service handled about 1.6 billion cards! (or about 25 cards  inhabitant  Great Britain, including children!)  spite  advertisements telling people  "Post Early  Christmas", few people get   sending  their cards  December 10th; and  that point , the postal service slows .
     the age   faxes, emails and social media, the pre-Christmas period often caused a lot  problems  firms and industry, as "urgent" letters and documents took several days  reach their destination, slowed   the mass  Christmas mail!

Exercise 3.  Question forming :

Make up questions for the following "answers" which appear in the text, starting your question with ttthe prompts indicated  
For example : About 900 million  :  > Question.   How many ( cards did people in Britain send in 2017 ? )

If you write more than one line, pull open the text box using the pointer on the right

1. Answer: to help with the extra mail.  
Question : Why
2. Answer : December 10th.
Question : When
3. Answer : Holly, mistletoe and Christmas cards
Question : What
4. Answer : On the mantelpiece above the fire in the lounge.
Question : Where  
5.  Answer : It's enormous.
Question : How big
6.    Answer : No, it's a tradition all over the world.
Question  :  Is

For teachers

Syntax: quantifiers: This text is rich in quantifiers: have pupils pick them out as they read through the text. They should find: no / a few / all / virtually any / some / many / much / any / lots of / few / a lot of / several.
    Firstly get pupils to put them into an order of magnitude from all to no. Then check that they see the difference between much and many (used with non-count and count nouns), and between few (stressing the smallness of a quantity) and a few (a neutral assessment of quantity).

    Secondly, note the affirmative use of any. In most cases, any is used in negative and interrogative situations, corresponding to some in a positive affirmation. However, any can also be used in positive affirmations, to imply an unlimited choice.
   Five of the six uses of any in this article have this meaning: one does not (though it may appear to). Which is it?
   Answer: hardly got any, which, in spite of its appearance, is really a negative statement (being synonymous of almost none).

This teaching resource is © copyright Linguapress - renewed 2020
Updated from an article originally published in Freeway, the intermediate level English newsmagazine.
Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised  

intermediate level EFL resource

Readability - Fairly easy. Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 8.1 
Reading ease level:  69.4
CEF LEVEL :  B2 - intermediate
IELTS Level :  5-6

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Sport: The story of football and rugby
Big red London buses
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USA - Discovering Route 66
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Selected grammar pages
Online English grammar
Noun groups in English
Word order in English
Reported questions in English
Language and style 
Word stress in English
The short story of English

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