• Laura Lin

The Tradition of Christmas Cards is Alive and Well

The stores are decorated for Christmas and shoppers are increasing their number as the holidays draw closer. Soon such things as Elf on the Shelf, Christmas lights, and holiday baking will begin adding to the anticipation of the season. Mixed in with all the hustle and bustle of parties and shopping is the giving and receiving of holiday cards.

I have many fond memories of helping my parents with their cards, the stack of envelopes piling up on the table before we would take the stack to the post office. Throughout the month of December our mailbox would be the bringer of happy tidings that allowed us to catch up with friends and family strewn about the globe. Later, when I got married, I would continue the tradition. My husband and I would spend several evenings sitting at the kitchen table, adding a personal note to every card we would send out, completing the task with a red wax seal on the envelopes and a holiday stamp. It was exciting and felt ever so grown up.

Today however, I find that I don’t send out as many cards, and some years none, unless it is a reply to one that I received. Factors such as time and money come into play as I strive to juggle family obligations and work, but there are still years when I sit at the table with Christmas music blaring and jot a note in each Christmas card, going diligently down the list of names in my address book.

Photo by Laura Lin

Despite the boxes of cards in retail stores, every year my wall displays fewer and fewer of these holiday wishes and I often find myself wondering why. Is it social media, cell phones, a selfish society that is killing the tradition? To gain more insight, I did what most would – I took to Facebook with my quire.

Of the 10 people that responded, only 3 professed that they do not send cards, listing the demands of time during the hectic season as the largest culprit for their lack of participation. Thus, they rely on digital means to send well wishes and holiday cheer.

Those that do keep to the practice explain that they like the tradition and the personal touch it brings to the holidays. Roger Hoffman of Illinois says he views it as a Christmas gift to each person he sends a card to, estimating that the cost of card and stamp is roughly $2. “$2 a gift is inexpensive,” he said, putting things in perspective for those who claimed that sending cards cost too much.

Shirley Steberger of Ohio explained why Christmas cards were so meaningful to her. “It is the one time during the year that I attempt to reach out to close family and friends,” a sentiment expressed by several others. It seems that the holidays provide a good excuse to reach out to those you don’t normally communicate with the rest of the year.

Based on this small sampling, it appears that sending Christmas cards is still alive and well, however, everyone, including myself, have noted that there is a decline in the number of cards received. Those polled believe the decline is due to social media and the passing on of the elderly. Thus, I snooped about to learn if there really is a decline.

Peter Doherty, executive director of the Greeting Card Association, told Chicago Tribune last year that sales have remained stable for the past five years with 1.6 billion holiday cards being sold in the United States. That would certainly suggest that the business is alive and well.

It may come as a surprise, however, to learn who is keeping the tradition alive- the generation that has been blamed for so much wrong in our society, Millennials. Among my group of ten, it was either the senior citizens or the very young that gravitated towards this holiday tradition, leaving the mid-lifers settling for more conventional ways of expressing holiday cheer. Lindsey Roy, chief marketing officer at Hallmark Greetings, told Chicago Tribune that she believes that sending paper cards is “an antidote to too much digital.” As Millennials and younger are the ones immersed in the digital age, using it for both work and pleasure, it stands to reason that during the holidays they want to take a step back to Norman Rockwell days. Our senior citizens simply continue the card exchange because it is a tradition. Many middle-aged persons are engrossed in time-consuming jobs while managing a family and struggling with finances. I know that so often I have full intention of sending out cards, going so far as to have them sitting on the table to address, but time simply slips away from me and the moment is lost.

Though I am of the generation that in general has opted to move away from Christmas card exchange, I am a traditionalist at heart. I find that paper cards provide a connection to our past, as it leaves a paper trail of those near and dear to our hearts. As family and friends pass on, it is a treasure to have something of their thoughts, penned out in their own hand, to reflect upon.

Today’s card buyers add their own flair to the tradition, wanting cards that are an extension of their personality. Be it creating a photo card, a DIY work of art, or a fancy box set, careful consideration is given to the selection. Patrick Priore of Paper Source explained to Chicago Tribune that the cards are a keepsake and an “expression of whatever sentiment you’re trying to convey.”

Though I still opt to buy a box set of cards, I spend a good amount of time mulling over each design and getting the input of my family, as we select the card that reflects both our personality and budget. To keep that individual touch, however, I still incorporate a short note in each one instead of simply signing our names. I feel this assures the recipient that I do indeed think of them during the holidays.

However you send your well wishes, it is important to understand that there is no wrong way. It is about reaching out to those who are important to you and have impacted your life in some way. Be it through social media, snail mail, or text message, spread the holiday cheer and good wishes in your own unique way.

Happy Holidays!