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Do You Still Get Carded?

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Many years ago, My Honey and I had an annual competition: The sender of the first Christmas card we received would receive a gag gift from us.  The only rule was that it had to arrive after Thanksgiving.  No cheating by sending it to us early was allowed.  Invariably, one of my sisters would win the dubious honor of being the first sender.

This year, however, we’ve only received a card from my grandfather.  Our mantle looks a little sad and lonely at the moment.  It seems that there has been a inverse correlation between the price of stamps and the number of cards we receive.  I also think that the Internet has reduced the need to “keep in touch” with acquaintances through the traditional method of the Christmas card with the annual “update letter” tucked inside.  I will confess that my own boxes of cards are waiting impatiently on my desk for my attention.

When I was growing up, our family would send and receive hundreds of Christmas cards.  The louvred doors between the kitchen and the rest of the house had cards filling each slot.  It was exciting to receive the mail filled with the brightly colored envelopes and the anticipation to open them was almost unbearable.  The cards were sent by people from church, missionaries, my father’s former students, and relatives in distance parts of the country containing photos of people that we’d never recognize if we passed them on the street.

As I was preparing for this post, I remembered that I have a box of Christmas cards from 1975 that my grandparents saved for some reason.  As I opened it up, I discovered photos of relatives with first names written on the back of them by the sender and the last name scrawled in my grandmother’s handwriting.  There were several “Christmas letters” in the collection.  I recognized some names but that is the extent of my knowledge.  The great mystery, however, is Pearl G. Mears.  The collection contained three very artistic cards that she had made in 1953, 1955, and 1956 (see the photo above).

Our graciousness mentor, Lillian Eichler Watson, assures us in her Standard Book of Etiquette (1948), that sending a greeting card with someone else’s sentiments on them should never be used in place of a personal message in your own handwriting…except at Christmas.  She says,

To friendly and social-minded people all over the world, greeting cards serve a real and useful purpose…They are busy little harbingers of love and good cheer.  They tell distant friends they are not forgotten–rekindle fond memories and affections–pleasantly renew and strenghten old ties.

She continues that cards may properly be sent to anyone we have ever known and want to remember–from intimate friends to the most causal acquaintences.  If we wonder if we should send it to someone, we should err on the side of “good will” and send it.  She adds that there really aren’t any rules about who to send a card to although it is is very poor taste to send a card to a complete stranger in the hopes of drumming up business (Christmas card spamming?).

Mrs. Watson suggests keeping a list of those we want to greet at Christmas time, adding to it as our circles of friendships and acquaintence widen.  We are encouraged to check the list from year to year to make sure that we send cards to people who have sent cards to us.  My mother-in-law has a white metal index card box with holiday motifs painted on the outside.  She keeps an index card and any notations on it for each of her card recipients.  I know the box has at least 29 years worth of information in it  (how long I’ve known her) and she has told me that if something happens, I should grab the box because of its value to her.

We need to consider suitability when deciding what kind of cards to send.  Yes, the cards need to be a reflection of our personalities but Mrs. Watson admonishes us to “bear in mind that good tast is essentially simple, and [we should] avoid any extremes of size, color, design, or sentiment.”  Both Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Post remind us that photos of the children sent to casual acquaintences is inappropriate.

What about the great engraved versus handwritten signature debate?  Actually, they both say that either one is fine.  But that a handwritten note should be written on cards being sent to close friends and family.

Finally, I was reading a letter in the Ask Amy column of the paper recently from a woman who felt abandoned during a difficult divorce because people didn’t send her cards.  While neither Mrs. Watson nor Mrs. Post discuss sending cards to divorced people, they did mention that it would be thoughtful to send cards to recent widows/widowers with a simple “Thinking of you” notation along with the signature.  I think the same sentiment would also apply to newly divorced friends, too.

What about you?  Have you changed your card sending habits in recent years?  Do you still card?

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10 Comments

  1. Update: There was a card from one of my former students in my mailbox today! With an adorable montage of photos of her boys. Too cute for words.

  2. My family commented just yesterday how things have changed. We used to get so many cards it was hard to display them, but in the last few years, the amount has really dwindled. For the past few years, we basically only got one from the people we sent cards to, I suppose as a “have to” thing. This year, we haven’t sent cards. Just running late, and it seems a bit like what is the point? Seems like that is a tradition that’s passed. So far, we’ve had a grand total of 3 cards, including one from our newspaper guy. I’m sure we’ll send a few before the year is up though.

  3. I forgot about the card from the newspaper guy! Now, like you, I’ve received three cards.

    It seems ironic to me that I received more Thanksgiving cards than I have Christmas cards. Perhaps because other holiday cards seem like fun to send whereas Christmas cards have the reputation of being a chore to send.

  4. I’m running low on inspiration for my letter. When I just write a letter that outlines the year in chronological order, I bore myself. One year I wrote the letter counting our blessings numerically, starting with the 1 new car we’d bought, our child entering 2nd grade, etc. and ending with wishing our friends and family as many blessings as the number of the new year. (I didn’t hit all the numbers in-between). Does anyone have any ideas for a clever or fun letter?

  5. I was just thinking about this today as I prepare to send off my pathetic few cards. Stamp prices plus the internet equals very few cards – mine and my DH’s are mainly to older family members and that’s it. I am probably going to make a vintage-ad E card and send or just post it.

    I used to send a lot more and so did my mother.

  6. Beth, I’m wondering why a letter needs to be included at all? While I was looking at my grandparents’ cards, I was struck by how many of them had simple hand written notes that just said something like, “Thinking of you and hope you are doing well” or “We moved to a warmer state this year, here is our new address.” I think like so many things, The Christmas Letter has become A Really Big Deal that we Think We Ought To Do. If you’re running low, just let it go.

  7. We actually used to send out interactive e-cards from Hallmark but then they started charging for them (the nerve of them! *laugh*) so we went back to the more traditional physical cards.

  8. I like the advise “photos of the children sent to casual acquaintences is inappropriate.” – but I think it has to be one of the most “unfollowed” guidelines. We have been sending New Years cards for about 5 years, because we usually find it more difficult to pull off an organizational feat (for us) like cards, at Christmastime. But I agree there is something special about getting Christmas cards. Everyday I get the mail, and basically throw it all away, I do love to go through magazines though – there is something special about ‘getting the mail’ and it is nice getting something that is strickly sent for goodwill and enjoyment.

  9. In my growing up years, we received many Christmas cards. When the cards began to arrive, it was tradition to open them after supper. Daddy would open, Mother kept the records, and we would read each and every card — the message and any written note or letter. Then I would take the cards and tape them to the door facings and other enameled surfaces. They were part of our decorations. Then after Christmas we threw them away!!!! (What were we thinking!!!) I love cards and prefer them to holiday letters, but I think this tradition is going away. This year I expect to answer the cards I receive.

    Relating to our retro theme, I think we’ve just added so much to our holidays that we can’t keep up any more. It seems to me our traditions used to be simpler — simple gifts, the exchange of cards, a tree, some greenery, candles on the mantle giving off a soft glow, the wreath on your door, and some special foods. I’d like to step back to a simpler festivity, but it won’t look exactly like the vintage Christmas.

  10. I send letters because I went to school in a different state, worked my first job in a different country and now live 3 states over from where I grew up. My friends and family are scattered hither and yon. I seldom get to visit the people I care most about. My parents’ generation all lived within 3 towns of where they grew up. Besides, my uncle told me he loves my letters. Now I feel I have to live up to that.

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