A Christmas card that was bought for threepence more than 50 years ago has become a symbol of an enduring friendship for a Hastings man and one of his school friends.

Former Havelock North senior constable Ron Thorne first bought and sent the card to his friend Alex Shaw, who lived in Tokoroa at the time, in 1962, thus beginning a tradition where the pair have exchanged the card every Christmas.

The card features a kilted Scotty dog on the front playing the bagpipes, and inside it read: "My Christmas wish is yours to keep, but please return the card to me. It's so costly I'm just lending it."

Mr Thorne said they met in 1954 when Mr Shaw moved from Scotland to Opotiki and the pair buddied up at school.

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While Mr Thorne subsquently moved to Te Puke then Hawke's Bay, Mr Shaw moved to Tokoroa and over the years the friends maintained contact in various ways, including through brief annual festive messages written in the card.

After 30 or so years, the card had become slightly tattered and was covered in plastic to protect it, and in 1996 an article about their correspondence was featured in the then Hawke's Bay Herald Tribune.

It noted that the card was starting to run out of space for the messages that in brief snippets kept each other abreast of what was happening in their lives and families.

Mr Thorne said after that article came out a woman who he did not know read the story and out of the blue sent him a new card, a slightly larger but otherwise exact replica of the original.

"She was going to send it to a police friend in England who was fond of dogs - I would not have a clue who she was, but she sent it to me so we could continue."

From 2000, the men began using the new card, but continued exchanging the original one slipped inside it.

Mr Shaw now lives in Tauranga, and, although they ring each other email to keep in touch throughout the year, the Christmas card tradition is still going strong.

It was Mr Shaw's turn to send the card this year, which caused Mr Thorne to breathe a sigh of relief, as he thought he had it and spent some anxious moments searching around the house for it.

With plenty more space on the new card to keep them going for many years yet, the prospect of a mention in the Guiness Book of Records was tantalising.

"I Googled it the other day and the record for sending Christmas cards was 57 years - by the time we get there though someone else might have it, but we plan to keep going as long as we can."