One day Henry Trapp said to his wife Mary: ‘Are we going to send any cards this year ?’
He said this every year as Christmas came over the horizon like a dinosaur.
It was a signal for his wife to say, as she always did: ‘I'd love not to.’
In reply to this he always said: ‘Me, too. But there are some people we really have to send cards to.’
To which she always said: ‘Well, some, perhaps. Far-flung relations and old friends, for example. But the idea of delivering cards by hand to all our neighbours is just too revolting...The commercialisation of Christmas has just got out of hand. And we all go along with it the whole time! And nobody ever stands up against it!’
This was the same conversation they had every year. You too, dear reader, have probably had it too, and then sighed deeply and got down to the business of doing your cards. But at this point in the Trapp household the conversation took a sharp new turn, for Henry Trapp said:-
‘Well, this year I'm not going to send any cards to the locals. Or anyone. Instead, I'm going to hire a sandwich board man!’
‘I'm going to hire a sandwich board man to march up and down the locality with a message saying HENRY TRAPP WISHES EVERYONE A HAPPY CHRISTMAS IN 1997 AND WILL NOT BE SENDING CARDS THIS YEAR.'
Mary thought about it for a moment, On the one hand, it was inexpressibly vulgar. On the other hand, it was a great idea, as long as she didn't have to do it.
‘Could you make that ‘Mr and Mrs Henry Trapp”?’ she said.
"Of course," said Henry, and went off to inquire about hiring a sandwich board man. Unfortunately, they were all hired out already, it being Christmas, but he managed to hire a spare sandwich board without a man, and decided to wear it himself. He painted the sign with his seasonal message of greeting and went out in the streets of his village to walk up and down for a half hour or so every day, long enough to get the message over and to exercise the dog.
On the third day, he was stopped by a Mr Herbert Manners, whom he knew slightly.
‘This message of yours...’ said Mr Manners.
‘Yes?’ said Henry Trapp, tensing slightly. He had half-expected to meet an enraged Christian sooner or later, who might accuse him of sacrilege, or possibly a local parish councillor who would insist that a sandwich board in the village would need planning permission...
‘I couldn't help noticing that the back of the board is blank,’ said Mr Manners. ‘Any chance you could carry Christmas wishes from Mr and Mrs Manners as well?’
‘Yes, but it will cost you,"’said Mr Trapp cheerfully.
They settled on a fixed rate of £20 for the inclusion of the Manners' Christmas greeting, which, as Mr Trapp said, sounded a lot, but would hardly buy a dozen good quality cards these days, so he was getting a bargain...
During the next week or so Henry was approached by several other customers, until he had to redesign the notice to get them all in. "Happy Christmas greetings from Mr and Mrs Henry Trapp, Mr and Mrs Manners, Mrs Harrison the florist" and so on.
Then the vicar approached him in the street.
Henry's heart sank.
‘Morning, Mr Trapp,’ said the vicar pleasantly. ‘Is this Christmas advertising parade of yours going to last much longer?’
‘Well,’ said Henry cautiously, ‘a few more days, I thought...’
‘Good,’ said the vicar. ‘In that case I wondered if I might add a note to your board about the times of the Christmas services in the church, and a display feature about the Carol Service on December 18th?
For a moment, Henry was tempted to allow the vicar to post his announcement free, gratis and for nothing, but commercial sense prevailed just in time and he charged him a flat £40. Taking advertising was just the breakthrough that Henry Trapp needed, and after the vicar's announcement had been accepted he also took ads from the village shop ("Low, low prices for spirits!"), the village pub ("Special Turkey Business Lunch !"), the seasonal visit of the Morris dancers and also of the mummers, who were in fact the Morris dancers in another guise.
‘We've had a lot fewer cards this year,’ said Mary Trapp.
‘Good,’ said Henry.
‘Aren't you a bit sad about it?’
‘Not when you think that I've made a couple of hundred quid out of my campaign against Christmas cards already,’ said Henry. ‘Christmas cards have been very good to me this year.’
‘Don't you think it's a bit odd,’ said Mary Trapp, ‘that this all started as a protest against the commercialisation of Christmas? And now you're making money out of the protest? What are you going to do next year?’
‘Expand,’ said Henry, getting up to go out to the shed, where he had already started work on making his own sandwich boards.
The Independent Thursday Nov 27 1997