Holiday Card Etiquette

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve been receiving an unprecedented surge in two types of holiday cards: mass e-cards and mass-printed cards with no handwriting (not even a signature). Meanwhile, the volume of handcrafted, personalized cards and letters has dropped significantly. This is a radical shift from the past, so I thought I’d unpack this a bit:

E-cards: They can be delightful, and they’re a great environment-friendly alternative to paper. Just like any other card, they’re only meaningful if meaningful effort went into producing them. What makes a meaningful e-card? Personal expression, customization, first-person video, pictures and a link to a central place where recipients can reply (the more communal and open, the better). For those feeling guilty of not sending a paper card via snail mail, I like the concept of an e-card with an associated charitable donation. To be sure, e-cards suck if they’re simply a scan or rendering of a traditional printed card, with no personalization. E-mail spam filters tend to flag them, anyway.

Mass-Printed Cards: These are acceptable only if you personalize them in some fashion. A personalized note is preferred, though initials are a minimum. But it’s bad to send a mass-printed card with no human marks. That’s insulting. It’s o.k. if someone is a single record in your database, but most would prefer you spare the trees and carbon emissions of land delivery versus send a mass-printed card with no human touch. It would be better to send an e-card, even a spammy one, so people can simply delete it!

Handcrafted Cards: These are the best kind, and you don’t even need a card — even a napkin can have tremendous impact. Similar to e-cards and other communications, personal expression and customization create success. We need more handcrafted cards and handwritten letters.

(Photo: meganzlin)

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. What about personalized e-cards wherein you click the option to be told when your recipient sees the card? I happen to have run into the odd phenomena this year wherein most of my recipients didn't open their Christmas e-card. Of those who did, in a list roughly split evenly between 30-50-somethings men and women, mostly men acknowledge the communication in some way and the women largely pretend otherwise. What's up with that?

    On the other half of my printed paper Christmas cards, also personalized with notes, I rarely hear whether it arrived to the person I sent it to because a lot of people don't comment on it (even in my immediate family). I don't know about you, but I feel like I am the last one holding up a dying tradition. When my parents were my age and younger they had contacts made in college and church that they kept their entire lives, even if it was only holiday cards. Now it doesn't matter if it is personalized or not. I've seen the same phenomena with holiday baking and cooking. I hosted for my younger brother-in-law's birthday in December and over the dinner table he grilled me on why I used this pasta sauce instead of that one. My sister joined in and said she didn't like it either. This is the exact same recipe they ate a few years before using the exact same ingredients that they complemented (which is the only reason I made it again.) Since when do people get off criticizing the HOST at the HOST's table. It's not like my cooking is burnt, tastes funky. It's store-bought pasta sauce, just the wrong kind! As a gag gift I gave my BIN a can of mushrooms at Christmas. Humor is typically my solution over anger. I'm not one to confront. But this issue really irks me and I'm wondering if it is time I found a way to ASK my friends and family what gives with all this rudeness?

    At the same time I've noticed people go sour toward Christmas cards, I've found that lot of people see no difference between the love and effort that goes into homemade and store bought baked goods these days!

    I have had complete strangers visiting my MIL's family from out of the country who have never tried my homemade pies and what not tell me that I went to too much trouble and in a sarcastic tone talk about calling the neighbors over rather than a simple “Thank you” or “That was thoughtful” (or not saying anything at all). We're not talking about burnt, soggy, stale or funky dishes either — the traditional stuff from mainstream recipes!

    I have a theory that could explain it: These days people are too busy and too casual to really embrace the holiday spirit. A percentage — not all but some — resent being reminded of those dying traditions, whether it is dressing up too much, going to a church service, baking too many homemade goodies, or sending out holiday cards. They resent the reminder or the sense that you manage and prioritize their time better than they do. They may also feel guilty that persons X, Y and Z in their life are being kind and thoughtful, whereas they can't be bothered to go out of their way for anyone else even this one time of year. So when you send them a card and they've not emailed, made or mailed any type whatsoever, they don't acknowledge it.

    I would like to travel in circles where people actually have manners and are thoughtful. Most of my guy friends are happily married and I am in a LTR (engaged, actually). The oddball part of all this is that I find more women being even more clueless than guys! The latest insult was a person with whom I have a lot in common not even mailing out a baby announcement — not even a single photo on email! By what I am saying you might think we had a falling out, but its never happened. We are not super close, nor are we estranged. She wasn't the only one, either. A family member who gave birth this past year didn't send out baby announcements, either. And this is a “mature couple” who were trying for this baby through every method possible for 5 years and it was their first! These are people who work in the art field, and I know better than to expect a handmade anything. I would be happy to get an email this time of year, let alone a mass printed card without a signature.

    In my world, cards of any kind are a dying art. And despite the fact that we live in a social networking and text-messaging era, most people are seemingly overloaded (TMI) and increasingly poor about personalizing their communication, too. Most of the people I know, including oddly some very good friends, only forward hoaxes and anonymous crap from their email. Years have gone by with no personal message and I'm lucky to get a reply if I use email (apparently email never got the same reputation/requirements for timeliness as returning phone messages took on after the invention of the answering machine). I can see it now: The next step is phone call wedding invites (or rather asking your bridesmaid to do it because you can't be bothered to notify your own friends and family).

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant. It is! I came online looking for whether anyone else is miffed — and thinking about starting the New Year with a whole lot fewer people in it. All these years I make excuses. Well we're not super close. Well they are busy. Well they don't check their email. I'm tired of excuses. I don't have any more of my time and energy to waste on people who could care less!

    Anyone else feel the same way?

  2. I have a theory that could explain some of the etiquette issues that plague the holidays. While I have not personally experienced the “no signature” type of card, I have experienced a general falling away of holiday niceties, whether it is not sending out or otherwise acknowledging a card or being seemingly oblivious to the time and love that goes into home cooked foods vs. store bought. To some extent, this is understandable. For one, people are often too busy and too casual to get into the holiday spirit. As such, a percentage — not all, but some — resent being reminded of fading traditions, whether it is dressing up too much, going to a church service, going “all out” baking homemade goodies, or sending out personalized holiday cards. Many, understandably, are frustrated by the stress. Others resent the reminder or the sense that another person manages and prioritizes his or her time at this time of year better than they do. There are even those who feel guilty that persons X, Y and Z in their life are being generous in their holiday gestures, whereas they can't be bothered to go the distance even this one time of year. Driving this social trend, I suspect, are cynical comments and thoughts that anyone who seemingly goes above and beyond has “too much time on their hands”. In other words, there would appear to be a counter-trend that plays into the temptation just to do away with the “traditions” of Christmas, a casual anything-goes attitude that is increasingly reflected the rest of the year, too. (A new baby not even meriting a baby announcement, for example.) Unfortunately, I see this type of thing all the time. In my parents' pre-baby boom generation, by contrast, it was not uncommon to be on each other's holiday card list for decades, even when friends had moved out of state since high school or college and dispersed while raising their families. With many Gen-Xers and boomers, on the other hand, it's okay to admit you can't afford stamps and even better if you brag that you “didn't have the time”. It's a cultural shift that, if continued for another 100 years, will gradually erode the sights, sounds and thoughtful gestures of the holiday season. This certainly doesn't bode well for retailers or the economy at large, let alone personal relationships that universally benefit from a boost of TLC every now and then.

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