Holiday cards – a parent’s version of Facebook?


Xmas card and envelope

‘Tis the Season of Giving, and in Christmases past ‘twas the season to do this by sending Christmas cards.

Sending a holiday greeting card was not something that could be done instantly. It required planning. You had to decide who you wanted to send the cards to and get their postal addresses. You had to choose the cards, perhaps buying them from a charity to support a good cause. Or creating your own, which often involved getting the family to pose for a photo.

You also had to decide how to frame the greeting, in terms of religion and culture. Should the cards say Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa or what? Should you leave faith out of it and stick with Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays? Or maybe just Peace.

Next you had to buy envelopes and stamps. Some people even had those stickers made with your return address next to a sprig of holly or something seasonal (inevitably wintry, as most Christmas images are of the far Northern hemisphere).

Then you signed all the cards until your hand cramped. Sometimes passing them to your spouse or partner to add a signature. Some scribbled a personal greeting or a few words about what the family had been up to the past year, so at least you saw a person’s handwriting. Sometimes the card you received was an art work, or your friend’s child’s potato print – images you could display on the mantelpiece.

In the digital era we now live in, ‘tis the season to send e-cards. Which are not for display. In fact, they hardly get a second look. You glimpse them when you open the email attachment, then they lurk in your inbox until they’re forgotten or deleted.

As for the time and effort involved in sending a digital card, all you do is download and press send. Or maybe, in an effort to be more personal, or humorous, you follow the prompts to turn yourself into a singing and dancing elf, and then press send.

Such frequent postal delivery is a thing of the past.

Such frequent postal delivery is a thing of the past.

The decline in hard copy holiday cards is clearly related to the decreasing use of what’s now disparagingly referred to as snailmail. While many of us may remember a twice-daily-once-on-Saturdays service, postal services all over the world deliver far less frequently. In fact, most are under threat of total extinction. This is due to less letters and cards being written and sent.

I recently asked someone under 20 if he had ever written a letter. He thought for awhile and then recalled an exercise in high school English class about Writing A Letter. Far fewer letters than packages are being sent, mainly of goods ordered online. So mail services will continue, but they’re being streamlined. Bad news for mail deliverers and stamp collectors, and a bit sad for those of us who grew up with a fond focus on the post box or mail slot.

The US Post Office has stopped Saturday mail delivery. Things are even worse in Canada, which is phasing out all home mail delivery in an effort to cut costs. This shocker prompted an emergency session of the Canadian House of Commons, where top postal executive Deepak Chopra (not to be confused with the Indian-American New Age guru) tried to spin the lowering of services and raising of costs as a benefit for older customers.

The seniors are telling me, ‘I want to be healthy. I want to be active in my life.’ They want to be living fuller lives.

– Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra

Thanks Mr Postman, but I think older people would prefer to construct their personal fitness plans without pressure from government service delivery cuts.

To return to the holiday card issue, I would not have expected much support for the continued use of Dead Tree Technology, i.e. the paper cards, letters and envelopes used to send greetings for that holiday centred around dead fir trees. Surprisingly, many e-experts argue that e-cards are not necessarily better than traditional greeting cards sent by post.

Before hitting send on your e-cards, make sure you are aware of these dangers:

1. Expensive – Believe it or not, e-cards are not totally free. Every 100 e-cards sent equates to about eight hours of productivity for your recipients. There’s also the time it takes for the sender to input email addresses and relevant data. If they are sent in inappropriate situations, they amount to little more than a time-consuming and expensive exercise.

2. Less personal – Even with the humorous animation and background music, e-cards don’t make the same emotional impact as a hand-delivered or posted snail mail card. Even if the recipient prints it out, it’s not quite the same thing as a decorated card.

3. Untimely – If a recipient takes leave before Christmas, they may not pick up the e-card until the new year. This adds to their already overflowing holiday inbox.

4. Limiting – Some people still don’t use email or Facebook on a regular basis, making it difficult to reach them electronically. Use that as an excuse to reconnect with people who are not on your Facebook friends or email list.

5. Scams and viruses – There’s a tricky trojan e-card that looks like it comes from Hallmark. It asks you to download an attachment to receive the e-card and that attachment is a virus. This is definitely not going to bring much cheer.

– email expert Chee Wong, Expert Messaging Australia

I fear that Christmas cards have become an old people’s thing. This was confirmed by a blogger who wrote about being jealous of all the holiday cards her parents got. When she tried to copy them, hoping for a house filled with cards in December, she discovered it wasn’t so easy.

As with so many things at this time of year, it’s not just the receiving, but the giving that counts. My parents get hundreds of cards because they send out hundreds of cards. I assumed this was something like their version of Facebook, and that they must post cards to every acquaintance they’d ever made to generate this amount of mail, but the crazy thing is, they actually know and care for every person on their list. And so five years ago, I started my own list, hoping one day to build it into the kind of empire they’ve created…The only bummer is my low return rate.

– Stephanie Earp, When You Send Out Christmas Cards and Don’t Get Any Back 

Not getting enough, in the way of Christmas cards, is also a concern over at the Mommysavers blog. Everyone says they get less and less cards each year.

– I got about 4, very sad….

– Honestly next year I am cutting way back.

– I only received 8 this year which is a lot less than last year. My mom also noticed she didn’t get very many cards this year either. With our rushed lives and modern technology that can help us keep in touch with people easier, are Christmas cards eventually going to be a thing of the past?

– Ah freedom from Christmas cards! This is the first year – ever – that I didn’t send cards before Christmas. We received very few. This year, I’m having friends take a group picture of us, I’ll get copies, and mail out Happy New Years cards.

– Comments on Are Christmas cards going out of style? 

Even more than sending and receiving holiday greeting cards, I miss the tradition of writing and reading year-end letters.

I remember the photocopied letters from family and friends, in the form of a folded piece of paper that used to fall out of the envelope with the Christmas card. What a gift it was to know that someone you care about has spent the time to write up their news of the past year for your personal reading pleasure. How enjoyable it was to open each envelope and read the details of people’s lives over the past year.

Then came the first home computers, which revolutionized everything, including form letters. With word processing you could write a holiday newsletter template on a PC and personalize each one, even if you only added a few specifics to the opening and closing paragraphs. As email became widespread, people stopped printing out the letters and emailed them instead – but at least they kept writing them each December.

Sadly, this practice seems to be dying out. This is mainly because people no longer wait until the end of the year to tell even distant friends and family their news. Now they do it all the time, throughout the year. With no time to pause or assess what they’ve been up to, people go straight from the experience to “sharing” it. They send each other instant messages, photos and videos chronicling their ongoing lives.

December used to be a time for reflecting on the year past. And on what we may have learned that could be applied to the challenges of the year ahead. It no longer is. The very practice of reflection is dying out. We are too busy sharing the moment to reflect on it.

So have a happy holiday, whether it’s Christmas or Kwanzaa. And check out this version of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, inspired by the past year’s revelations of US government surveillance, thanks to whistleblowing.

These are the lyrics of the original spoof song from the American Civil Liberties Union:

You better watch out,
You better not Skype,
You better log out,
Yeah you better not type,
The NSA is coming to town.

You’re making a list,
They’re checking it twice;
They’re watching almost every electronic device,
The NSA is coming to town.

They see you when you’re sleeping
They hear while you’re awake
They know who you call and who you write
So encrypt for goodness’ sake!

With Congress in the dark and a cloak-and-dagger court
We’re lookin’ for answers, they’re comin’ up short
The NSA is coming to town.

They’re making a list,
Checking it twice;
They’re watching almost every electronic device,
NSA is coming to town
The NSA is coming to town,
The NSA is coming to town.


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