Friday, December 24, 2010

Still Life with Robin: Where Have All the Holiday Cards Gone?

by Peggy Robin

We have a fireplace with a nice mantel that can hold ten to twelve holiday cards, depending on the size. Behind the fireplace is a wall of built-in bookshelves that can hold perhaps up to 150 cards. We never get that many, but in years past, we’ve had cards all across the shelves at eye level and have had to use a stepstool to put cards on the next two levels of shelving, but never all the way up to the top-most shelves. It’s made for a cheery holiday look in our house at this time of year.

Last year and maybe even the year before, I noticed that the number of cards we received was a little less than the previous year. A few of the organizations that used to send us pretty cards in the mail were now sending e-cards instead. At first it was just the environmental organizations, and I guess that’s to be expected. Their point is to save trees, and if they save on postage, too, they can put that money to use saving even more trees. But then the banks and some other businesses started sending e-cards, too. I doubt very much they’re worried about the money going to pay for paper and postage to send seasonal cheer, given the amount they seem able to lavish on executive bonuses in December.

This year for the first time I’ve noticed that sending out cards is on the decline with some individuals and families as well. In years past we used to get a good number of cards that contained a long printed letter, often with photos, giving an account of the lives of each of the family members during the past year. But looking over everything we’ve received so far, it seems the typed and mailed newsletter is all but dead. I think we have received just two this year, when by this time last year we might have had over a dozen. Here, I think the answer is not environmentalism, or a desire to save on postage; I put the blame squarely on Facebook. When each member of a family is updating his or her status six times a week, keeping all their friends up on their minutest changes of routine (e.g., “I went to the gym today and boy did I sweat a lot!”), there’s really no more need to type up an account of the year’s goings-on and send it by snail-mail; we already know more than we wanted to. (You can see that I’m not one of those people who rail against chatty holiday newsletters. I usually enjoy a once-a-year summary keeping me up on the major events of each family who cares to write them up. Yes, they are occasionally over-the-top in detail. But they’re models of reticence and modesty when viewed in the context of our Facebook-connected world full of constant revelations. All right, enough curmudgeonly grumbling on that point. My children tell me my problem is simply that I don’t “get” Facebook. I concede that they’re right.)

So here’s where we stand this year. Cards are down about thirty percent from last year, a number already down around twenty-five percent from the year before. If the trend keeps going in this direction, it won’t be long before we’re down to just the bare minimum needed to cover our mantel -- no more The average age of the sender of mailed cards keeps climbing, too, in inverse proportion to the quantity of cards received. I’m contemplating the future and wondering how best to adapt to this new card-less reality. Here are my four choices, as I see them:

(1) I can accept the new card-less reality, stop putting up holiday cards, and be content with a mantel and shelves that look the same all year round.

(2) I can accept the new card-less reality, stop putting up holiday cards, but find some other decorative card substitutes to give the house that holiday look. I’m thinking maybe three to five digital photo players on the mantel that can be programmed to play an ever-changing random display of holiday images, a 21st Century version of holiday cards.

(3) I can go retro, and decorate the shelves and mantel with cards, but I’ll need to save and re-use the old holiday cards from years’ past. Who says cards need to be new? Cards are cards, and it’s not as if they go bad over time.

(4) I can print out all those e-cards on my color printer, and then carefully glue them to cardstock, fold them, fake-sign them from the organizations or people who sent them, and presto-change-o, suddenly they become new holiday cards!

I’m mulling it over, right now, with a cup of hot spiced cider. If anyone has any other bright ideas on this subject, be sure to comment below. With or without greeting cards, happy holidays to all!


  1. "MERRY CHRISTMAS" to one and all!

  2. Even last year we got somewhere between 60-70 cards. This year, we got 14. And none from all the non-profits we contribute towards. And not even a single card on Christmas Eve! Which meant no last minute rushes. Facebook will kill USPS.