For such a jolly institution, the Christmas card had a surprisingly controversial birth. Originally invented by upper-class Victorians, the first commercial card had to be withdrawn because it depicted a family enjoying a festive feast. Puritans, shocked by scenes of happiness involving red wine, were furious.
We should have taken the hint. Instead, the cards became increasingly popular and, with the advent of the penny post, became fixtures of the season for just about everyone. Their spread onto the Internet was inevitable - as have been the unfortunate consequences. At least two mass-mailing worms are out there disguised as seasonal greetings: click on these Trojan reindeer, however, and your PC risks spending Christmas as a zombie.
The problem is exacerbated by ordinarily sane people emailing out genuine Christmas greetings, often in conjunction with a card Web site. By doing so, they're encouraging their friends to click merrily away at third-party links received in unsolicited email -- a practice which nobody can condone.
It is widely accepted that Christmas softens the brain and renders the critical faculties mute. It does not, however, entirely remove those twinges of guilt many people feel about not sending cards at all. It is for this reason that emailed Christmas cards are so popular - those who do send normal cards though the post wouldn't dream of any such thing. And looking at some of the Flash disasters, strewn with grotesque animations, tinny MIDI carols and pop-up adverts, they have a point.
So emailed Christmas cards are wrong in three ways: they encourage bad online habits; they reveal the sender as a guilt-driven skinflint; and they contain aesthetic horrors that even the Victorians would have found impossible to stomach.
If you must send greetings this Christmas, write them on a real card and put them in a real envelope where the only acceptable attachment is a £10note. Phone and say hello. Or just adopt a Puritanical disdain for the whole business. Don't send an email card: it is the season, but it would be folly.
ZDNet UK's leader articles will be taking a two-week holiday from today, though if the mood takes them they may make an occasional appearance over the festive season. The leader articles will be back to their daily schedule on Tuesday, 4 January.