It's that time of year when many of us expend significant resources sending holiday cards.

They let you stay connected with friends and family you may not have contacted over the last year - a way to remind them they are still in your thoughts, that they are important to you, and that you send warm wishes.

I love receiving cards, but when I send them it has always niggled me simply writing

Dear X & Y,

Happy Christmas.

Love Nick

What a wasted opportunity for keeping a bond of friendship alive. Friends need to keep up with each other's lives, news, thoughts and feelings (just to clarify, I have tried to write personal notes in the past!).

I also think about the downsides to sending physical cards. Apart from the cost, which would be better directly donated to charity than relying on the 1-2% of purchase price that the commercial card companies do on your behalf - there's the impact on environment: the bleaching of the paper, the fossil fuels burned to deliver the post across land and ocean, and then the recycling of those millions (billions?) of cards. Ouch.

I hear myself... I'm sounding unfestive and miserable. I don't intend that at all. Keeping relationships strong is important, and Christmas is a wonderful time to do so.

Idea One: A Fail

A few years ago, Sasha and I tried sending emails instead of cards. Not bland emails - we added artwork (like the two pictures by my daughter in the photo above) and wrote a personal message in each. But somehow this has not felt as good as we hoped. I suspect that many recipients feel a little offended that we no longer send cards - that we value the relationship less. I guess I understand - there is a cultural reticence around emails as a result of the junk in our inboxes.

Idea Two: This One's Better

But last week, one of my yoga students told me what they do, and a lightbulb came on for me.

It's so obvious!

They phone their old friends and distant family instead of sending cards at Christmas. These days, it's even better. Apps like Skype or WhatsApp let us make easy video calls - most of us have forgotten the power of a face to face conversation.

Seeing your distant relative or old friend laughing and smiling, catching up with their news, hearing their challenges and achievements. A voice or video call is a real chance to rekindle a relationship which is obviously valuable to you, but perhaps has been neglected.

It might take a little more time. But how much more bonding, festive and fun is a video call than 'Dear A. Happy Christmas. Love B.'?