Christmas Cards: Do you care enough to send the very best?

Two years ago, around this time of year, my sister phoned me with an advance warning that she wouldn’t be sending Christmas cards. I paid attention—after all she is the Emily Post of manners and is always ahead of the curve. But I didn’t follow her example—I wasn’t ready. So for two more years, my bundle of Christmas cards hit the bottom of the mailbox with a hollow thump. Each thump was the sound of a dying industry.

We knew it was inevitable. Post boomer generations have been disparaging the practise for years, undoing a custom established since the mid 1800s.

Here are some of the reasons given

1. It takes time. It’s one more thing to do in our increasingly busy schedules. Younger people particularly are conscious of doing things quickly. Speed and immediacy are everything.

2. Cards cost too much. Card companies, in a response to reduced sales, have tried to increase their profit margins by putting up the price.

3. Postage costs are through the roof. In recent years the cost of postage has more than doubled. A stamp costing 12 cents in 1981 in the US, now costs 34 cents. Consumers have responded predictably by cutting down their mailing. In Canada, last year, postal workers delivered 1.4 billion fewer pieces of mail across the country than in 2006.

4. It’s hard on the environment. In recent years, people have found it less acceptable to buy and send hundreds of cards, which they know will end up in the nation’s land fills, despite recent recycling trends.

You could see the writing on the wall

As the desk top computer advanced into everyday use, it was inevitable that computer created greetings would follow. Consumers started to test the waters with these new alternatives:

1. They learned to make their own cards. Computer generated Christmas cards first made an appearance in 1984. What they lacked in attractiveness, they made up in audacity, suggesting that its senders were on the cutting edge of a brave new world.

2. They began to send e-cards. Online greeting card companies arrived in the 1990s. Subscription prices were nominal (still are), and the process easy to learn. You can generate a Christmas card list, and send cards out on masse at the click of a key.

3. They were introduced to Facebook greetings. The reminders on Facebook guarantee that you will never forget a birthday, or leave any ‘friends’ out of a Christmas greeting. It’s immediate and gratifying to keep in touch so easily.

4. Younger consumers discovered texting. Along with Instagram and Snapchat, this is the most immediate of greeting methods. Attaching a photo or video of yourself and your family around the Christmas tree gives it an even bigger impact.

It’s no wonder that the greeting card industry is on a downturn. In the five years through the end of 2016, revenues are expected to have declined at an annualized rate of 6 per cent to $401.7-million in the US, according to a July trend report by research company IBIS World.

The really telling statistic is the impact on employment. Hallmark, the largest card company in the world, for example, slashed its workforce from 22,000 FTEs to 10,500 FTEs worldwide from 2010 to 2015.

Projections out to 2021 show further revenue declines and fewer sales outlets for greeting cards. In a July, 2017 report, Global Industry Analysts projects that the greeting card global market will decline to US$20 billion by 2024.

So are cards a thing of the past?

Is traditional correspondence at Christmas pretty much a thing of the past? Can you put your Christmas card list away forever? Not so fast, people in the industry say—greeting cards are still here. The market has changed, but it is still thriving.

Quoted in a Dec. 6, 2014 article by Miles Brignall in the Guardian, Sharon Little, chief executive of the England branch of the Greeting Card Association said:

“People are buying slightly fewer cards but are spending more on the ones they are sending to family and close friends. Everyone predicted the end of the greetings card industry because of the fashion for digital. But it’s the one area of print communication that proved extremely resilient.”

According to the Greeting Card Association in the US, sales of greeting cards has actually held steady for the last several years. This means about 6.5 billion greeting cards are purchased in the United States every year. The annual retail sales of greeting cards is estimated to be between $7 to $8 billion in total.

And don’t worry about Hallmark, which has the largest share in the card industry—they are going into other things. Hallmark Cards Inc., together with its subsidiaries, offers albums, hats, scarves, and T-shirts, interactive books, personalized, and recordable story books, and a plethora of seasonal décor products.

So the industry is not yet dead and gone. But its sunnier-than-ever prospects don’t answer my question: Do we join the trend to dump the Christmas card tradition, or do we hang in there, and continue to send them?

There are compelling reasons to stop. Most of all, it would be a relief to cross this chore off our lists. But like me, you may not be completely finished with it. After all, what is more gratifying, as the Christmas season approaches, than choosing exactly the right card for someone we care about, anticipating their enjoyment of a funny line, or their appreciation of a sentimental thought?

And ultimately, what are Christmas cards all about? My guess is they’re about being loved and remembered—knowing someone important to us has thought enough of us to send a greeting.

But isn’t that accomplished just as well with an e-card or a Facebook message? Hmmm, maybe it’s time for me to join the 21st century.


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51 Responses to Christmas Cards: Do you care enough to send the very best?

  1. Phyllis Amon says:

    Sad but true!
    Merry Christmas Everyone!
    Remembering Birthdays is still my favourite time to send out cards!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      That’s a good way to go, Phyllis! It seems that with birthdays there is more time to devote to every occasion and the cards that go with them. Merry Christmas to you too!

  2. Janis says:

    I only send Christmas cards to a few older relatives. Christmas gifts are a thing of the past too. We all have too much stuff… if I find the “perfect gift” for a loved one, I either give it to them right away or give it to them for their birthday.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Excellent choice, Janis! We are all looking for ways to simplify our lives—gifting on birthdays only is a good start!

  3. Barry Dym says:

    When I need someone advocating for me, I’m nominating you. Indeed, why not e-cards.

  4. I jumped on the Card bandwagon very quickly. I am, after all, a baby boomer. But now I have found myself drifting back to sending cards. I guess it is the “everything old is new again” mentality.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I had a chuckle over your response. Sometimes we long for the things we used to do in the past, and want to revisit them. When that feeling strikes you, do what feels best!

  5. Pat Skene says:

    I’m hanging in there and still love the process of sitting down on a Sunday afternoon and doing my Christmas cards. Going through each name and writing something personal is part of the process. I just purchased my cards for this year and chose a homey old fashioned scene, instead of my usual Peace on Earth theme. It’s also a reminder of days gone by and a ritual I can’t replace electronically. I’m in for the duration on this one.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      We will all respect your decision on this one! When we realize we truly enjoy doing something, we should just go for it!

  6. Rachel McAlpine says:

    Thanks for a timely article, spelling out all the pros and cons. I can’t quite reconcile the sales-down-but-sales-up figures, but it sure is a market that’s already long changed. Our family’s habits certainly have… The Japanese New Year card tradition is handy: if someone sends you a Christmas card, send them a New Year card back. That’s about six of my friends at last count.

  7. “A stamp costing 12 cents in 1981 in the US, now costs 34 cents.” Actually it is 49 cents now. My list has never been long, but it gets shorter and shorter! This year it will be just a few Christmas letters.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      A writer is only as accurate as her source! Since costs of postage are different in the Us and Canada, I had no way of checking in real life. Good for you for doing letters—I’ve really never managed to do that!

  8. Clive says:

    It doesn’t matter to me what the latest trend is, or what I’m now ‘supposed’ to be doing. Sending and receiving cards has always been a part of Christmas for me and always will. I’m lucky in that I don’t have to cough up for too many postage stamps, as they are hideously expensive here, but for a one time a year event I think it an investment worth making in friends and family anyway.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Spoken like a true traditionalist—as far as Christmas cards go, anyway! I’m glad there are no rules for this, and we can each do our own thing!

  9. virginiafair says:

    The amount of Christmas cards I receive has been steadily decreasing over the past few years. I am still on the fence whether I’ll send any this year. I discovered how easy it was to send e-invitations to my 70th birthday party last year, and may send –cards this Christmas as well.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Whatever you decide to do, Virginia, I’m so sure you will give and receive a great deal of love in the process. However we convey our feelings doesn’t matter, as long as we do it!

  10. I love sending and receiving cards. At Christmas, I also write a family letter although I hear these letters are hokey. One year I skipped the letter and heard from so many friends and family members that my letter was something they looked forward to receiving. Cards and letters may be a dying tradition but I’ll keep sending them! Thanks for a great post!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It’s good to see that some people can be decisive, rather than ambivalent, like me! Some Christmas are very interesting, and people do look forward to them. All depends on who the writer is!

  11. Marie Kuswa says:

    I’m one of those who stopped sending out a whole bunch of them. Now I just buy individualized cards for very few. When you consider that the postage for each card is a half a dollar, it really adds up when you are looking at sending out a whole bunch. So I don’t anymore, and I’m getting fewer as well. I’m glad you mentioned the ecological aspect, I don’t feel guilty anymore!

    • Lynne Spreen says:

      PS Google auto completed my personal information, helpfully feeling in my mother’s name instead of mine!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Hi Lynne, I can see from your website information that you really are Lynne, and that Google re-named you! So funny! Thanks for your comment. There really ARE good reasons to reconsider our addiction to Christmas cards. You are ahead of the curve…as usual!

  12. Lynne Spreen says:

    And voice recognition is failing me as well!

  13. I’ve not sent one for years – nor received all that many – except my dear old BIL in France started sending them after my sister died – but last year, I had tried to tell him, well before Xmas I wasn’t living there – I did get it in mid Jan when I was in the area. I’m not sure if it has got through to him via his kids that I’m at a new place – and there is never any senders’ address so it will for ever now, end up in the “dead letter office” unless someone at that place bins it.
    The first time it came, I couldn’t for the life think “who do I know in France” other than said family (who had never sent them before) – all that was inside was my name and his first name. Good think I knew who Derek is/was 🙂

    When I think of cards, traditionally sent at this time of the year – I think of “thinking of you…” as reminder that you’ve not forgotten. Then later on people started sending a long winded newsletter within them…

    Now at the click of a few buttons, tell our news daily if we wish!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It’s unusual to have old friends emerge through ‘snail mail’…that’s usually the role of Facebook! Interesting story, Cathy!

      • I just remembered another cute but sad story – one of my friends, decided to make computer generated cards – and they would be all generic, so that there was no name except hers – no “to Margaret or Sarah or Jo” – the she got even smarter and generated all the sticky labels/addresses to the people and stuck on her envelopes.

        That seems pretty good and she was very pleased with herself

        THEN some dreadful happened, the envelopes started returning to her – the sender… not just one but may a dozen.

        She had no idea which person didn’t receive a card, because the card had absolutely no name on it – AND all the sticky address labels had fallen off the envelopes… it was a total shambles!

        SO she had to send out New Year cards to all her friends, and explain that there had been a glitch with Xmas cards, and they may not have received them 🙁

  14. macmsue says:

    I wish I’d kept some of the Christmas cards I received over the years. My friends and I always used the Christmas cards as a time to tell about the year’s happenings not with a “one off” generic letter but individual ones. I’d love to be able to reread about the engagements, weddings, babies, new houses etc.
    I think now emails provide me with my updates more than any other means. I’m not a fan of Facebook, Twitter etc and haven’t made up my mind yet whether I’ll send any Christmas cards this year.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’ve often wished I had kept more old cards, just to remind myself of the loved ones from the past. I do have a few from my mother, who passed several years ago. You are right, email is the easiest and best avenue of communication today.

  15. Rummuser says:

    I used to dread Divali and the New Year every year because I would have to send cards to at least the people who sent me cards without fail every year. Over the past two decades or so, the practice has completely tapered off and I don’t receive even one, nor can I remember when I sent one to any one last.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I remember the times when I used to match each card sent to me, usually with a New Year’s Card, since it would be late by the time I received it. I’ve let that practise go now!

  16. Derrick John Knight says:

    A sound appraisal. As a matter of interest, I will, today, be making a birthday card to post to my granddaughter in Australia.

  17. Wow! The hubs and I had this conversation this morning! To card or not to card! Each year, I spend time writing personal messages in each card. Often, I receive cards with a computer generated label and pre-printed signature! What’s the point in that! Sometimes I wonder if the only reason I get them is because I sent them first. So this year, I’m sending only to a select few…and we’ll see what happens!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Good experiment, Lynn! I used to write messages in each card as well, thinking “what’s the use of having all this technology!” I’m not saying it was a waste of time—hand written messages are precious—but so time consuming!

  18. Hi Diane! I gave up Xmas cards years ago. I never liked them and always felt sad when I got them and people spent all their time and money only to sign their name on a prescripted message! Of course, I also gave up Xmas gifts too–and requested all my family stop buying them for us as well. Far better to spend time together doing fun things than buying stuff or each other trying to prove our love. I actually enjoy the holidays a great deal more now because I’ve gotten rid of the obligations and can focus on the love and good feelings that the holiday should inspire. ~Kathy

    • I gave up buying/making Christmas presents for a totally different reason – I would spend time creating said present AND if it was family (& it usually was) I would be handed back said present and told to “sell it” to someone else…or “return to shop for refund” – and to make it even worse, I would be given all the packaging (torn or not), ribbons, envelopes to take home

      Reason was because apparently I was better served with saving my money, that poor people shouldn’t even attempt to spend time/money to do this…

      And they never gave me just “nice presents either” practical things…one year I thought it was joke – a huge box of opened tissues with a generic brand! I thought that the tissues was the packaging so by the time I got into said box, I had a pile of torn tissue – yet again to take home!!

      I’m not exactly rich, but not so am I so poor that I can’t afford to gift something. It was interesting the year I gave one of my family members a very nice handwoven knee wrap – they didn’t give it “back” but I think that was the year I got a broken in half-chocolate bar…

      in more recent years, I’ve been asked to bring a contribution to the food – the first year I made a smashing dessert – “yep, bought most of it home, apparently they thought I should eat it…” took me weeks to eat everything up! As i’m not really that kind of dessert person.

      the following year, I tried a salad (remember it’s summer down here) this time it was the dressing I used
      enuff said!

      This year – I’m not attending their particular feast…it’s just too soul destroying

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      You are right. The money you spend on Christmas cards (which have a very short appeal) and gifts (that are usually not what people want)is better spent on enjoyable and memorable experiences—a more genuine expression of love!

  19. Rin Porter says:

    I still send out Christmas cards, although fewer than in past years because of deaths of relatives and friends. I look forward to getting Christmas cards in the mail. It is the only time that most of my relatives communicate. Their annual Christmas letters tell about what they did during the year, what babies were born, their pets’ doings, etc. I especially like hearing about people’s travels around the world to different places. It usually takes me a full day to address the cards, write my own Christmas letter, print out copies, and assemble the mailing. But it’s an annual ritual that I enjoy. Thanks for your post!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I felt the same, until about two years ago, when my sister withdrew from the Christmas card scene—somehow, her decision made me re-evaluate my part in this custom. But, in all honesty, I think it had more to do with this blog, which I had just started, and my lack of time. Your enjoyment of the process comes through loud and clear—kudos to you for sticking to it!

  20. Mike Goad says:

    We’ve nearly completely stopped. For many years, Karen would address all of the cards and then set those to my family aside in case I wanted to add a note. Unfortunately, more often than not, I would procrastinate to the point that she would end up mailing them, though I think that, a few times, mine never got sent at all. Year by year, lately, the number of cards from others have dwindled to the point that we decided to cut way back. If it continues like this, soon we won’t be sending any.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Hi Mike. Welcome. This descending trend seems to have happened by mutual agreement. I think some traditions decline in importance, and before you know it, they are gone. I hope to find a new study that may be more conclusive about this!

  21. Big John says:

    We still send Christmas cards, although the list gets shorter each year. However, our family decided a few years ago to stop giving Christmas presents and to donate the money to our favourite charities instead. So, no more socks that don’t fit, books that I’ve already read and bottles of manly ‘stinky stuff’. .. 🙁

  22. joared says:

    My Christmas card list has diminished the past two or three decades, but that’s largely because recipients have died. Even though others, whose skills have diminished preventing their reciprocating, receiving my missives becomes even more valued by them, I’m told. Most years I enclose a written holiday letter and many of those who send me cards do the same. In some instances that’s the primary contact we have for the year as the miles and our activites and/or responsibilities limit our contact during the year. (I’ve read criticisms some people have about such holiday letters, citing a variety of reasons, but I welcome their personal touch as do those in my life.) I note the several younger generations do tend to have jettisoned any such card or letter sending traditions. I’ve never sent cards to people I saw every day or worked with as we’ve usually exchanged verbal greetings.

    I’m still particular about the type card and their printed message that I select. I have a several year supply of differing style cards I purchased by the box at discount price several years ago. I did so because these nice ones were becoming more difficult to find if I waited to purchase each year — plus much more expensive — and I thought they might become extinct. Hallmarks weren’t what I purchased though a friend’s son and ultimately wife worked in their creation for a time.

    Only one acquaintance has sent me e-cards for Christmas and just about every other holiday for which I don’t send cards. While the e-cards are cute novelties, often antimated with recorded music, I experience these as much more impersonal since — they can be setup to send practically automatically not requiring the sender to give much more thought to the act than supplying a name and address whether it’s Christmas or a birthday. Aren’t these people cared enough about to give them just a little of our time and thoughts beyond the mechanized response — oh, well, we’ll soon have robots to take care of even more of the job for us. 🙂

    The increased commercialization of other holidays has seen more cards/e-cards/even gifts being promoted — and adopted by many — for other holidays I’ve observed.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      You’re right, e-cards are more impersonal. I agree with a lot of your ideas, even the comment about robots!

  23. How easy it is to subscribe for about $18. a year to an email card program … sign up all the people you want…. click on the dates and days … and boom, you’re done! And that’s special? No it’s not. It’s a slap-dash excuse for not taking the time to choose a small box of lovely cards and write a short personal note to a friend or family member. Excuses abound … no time, it’s the way things are today … I have to be ‘current’ … it’s old to send cards … I personally will not respond to email greeting cards. Maybe next year Amazon’s Alexa or a real chatbot can speak for you right into the home of your loved ones. Who needs your real voice anyway? Easy peasy.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Like you, I’m a little disturbed by the way our oldest methods of communication are changing. And yes, e-cards and texts (even with videos) are impersonal and, as you say, an insult to some. But I’m sticking to my point about the impact of cards and gift wrapping on the environment. Our landfills are filling up with stuff…and here I include gifts at Christmas, those purchases that people appreciate for a brief moment, and then discard because they are not needed or appropriate. I’m far more disturbed by the waste we leave, all in the name of ‘the personal touch’. We really do need to re-think our practices at Christmas, I believe.

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