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The Modern Christmas Letter

My query has to do with the etiquette of sending Christmas letters and greetings via email. Save for a few family members, the vast majority of people on my Christmas letter list are accessible via email now, so it seems to make sense that in lieu of postage and post office lineups this time of year, is it alright to send a letter via email?

In the last few years I have received more holiday updates in this format, and don’t mind it at all. If it’s a letter I want to keep, I simply print it out and add it to the pile of other cards and letters. I know there is something to be said for receiving a card in the mail, and I do plan to send out those to older family members who do not use email. But to be fair, it is also an extremely busy time of year, and it seems like each year fewer and fewer people have time to send out greetings. This seems like a great way to keep the tradition alive, while still having time to get everything else done.

Thanks for your guidance! 1205-13

So, you want to eschew a tradition of sending holiday greetings by mail solely because you are too busy to sign, address and mail these Christmas letters and cards?   Hmmm…don’t you think that if everyone had the same attitude of wanting the easy, lazy way of expressing holiday cheer that emailed Christmas greetings would soon be equated with the easiest way possible to get out of wishing someone a Happy New Year?  How special.           Not.

I still send Christmas cards by mail.   I view each card as a small, personal, inexpensive gift of my time.   Email “cards” don’t have holographic effects or glitter or the smeared ink of my personal notes and signature.    I email and Facebook family and friends all year but I want something a little more special for expressing my wishes for a happy holidays and good new year.   So few people send Christmas cards now that I *like* being the oddball who still does it.

It just seems to me that some correspondences should be so special that they deserve a more personal touch than a mass mailed email message.   Weddings and holidays rate as those special times.

{ 83 comments… add one }
  • CWM December 18, 2013, 1:27 pm

    I gave up on mailing cards years ago. With the pain in my hands and wrists, it’s very hard to sign my name to ten cards without smearing it (left handed, so I have to be careful). That doesn’t include even a sentence or the recipient’s name listed on it, nor does it include addressing them. Then there’s the cost of buying the cards, envelopes, and mailing it. I haven’t been able to afford that since I lived at home.

    I don’t send out generic mass emails or texts (don’t get me started on mass texts…), but if I want to wish someone a happy holiday, it’s easier for me to compose an email (I don’t have to use my thumbs or hold my hands in an awkward position and wait for ink to dry). Even easier than that, though, is to call friends on or near the holidays, which is the habit I’ve gotten into. It’s much more personal than a card, doesn’t clutter their house, is friendly to the environment, and it’s completely personalized.

  • Kovi December 18, 2013, 1:48 pm

    I feel that there will always be people who are older, more set in their ways, or otherwise more inclined to believe that an email can be nothing but lazy or impersonal. My experience is just the opposite. So long as every email is personalized and thoughtful, what’s wrong with using a more modern medium to convey, “Merry Christmas!” to you loved ones?

    Personally, I’m not big into Christmas cards. I’m just not hugely into them, and when I get one, I’ll smile when I read it, but it’ll likely end up lost or in the trash soon afterwards. I simply have little sentimental value in such things. So I’d welcome an email, which is easier to keep track of if I do decide to hold on to it, and doesn’t waste paper or ink.

    If you know people in your family who personally despise emailed cards, I’d go ahead and send them a real one. However, there are likely others who are more like me, and honestly wouldn’t bat an eye at receiving a Merry Christmas through email. As long as your writing is just as thoughtful, go ahead and do that.

  • lafred December 18, 2013, 1:57 pm

    My husband and I make our cards, usually from an image captured by the Hubble telescope. There are breathtaking photos of the universe, and people really seem to enjoy receiving them. We always include a nice message, and we both sign them and address the envelopes. This is something we enjoy doing together, and it has become a Christmans ritual for us. Sending something into the internet universe just wouldn’t be the same.

  • Karen L December 18, 2013, 1:57 pm

    I *miss* Christmas cards. I hand-make my Christmas cards each year — this year’s card had 22 pieces (each!) and I send them to people I truly care about. Very few people send me any kind of card. Or email. This argument about being “busy” doesn’t hold water. You are busier than I am? You are so busy you can’t acknowledge my existence? Wow. The “busy” argument makes you sound selfish and shallow. Good luck to you when you are at your dad’s funeral and all your “dear friends” are too “busy” to come. I’m sure they’ll send an email.

  • Anonymous December 18, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Okay, so some people feel that actual, physical Christmas cards (or whatever holiday cards) are important to them, and others are in the “thought that counts” camp, that feels that e-mail, YouTube videos, or whatever other means of expressing the same sentiments, are equally valid. I’m kind of thinking that this isn’t so much an “etiquette” issue, as it is simply a matter of different people having different “love languages.”

  • Tracy December 18, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Admin said: “Email ‘cards’ don’t have holographic effects or glitter or the smeared ink of my personal notes and signature.”

    So, if I send a physical card that doesn’t have holographic effects or glitter or smeared ink, my physical card doesn’t count either?

    Olivia said: “I don’t have a problem with sending Christmas cards if that is something special to you, but slamming someone for using an alternative medium doesn’t seem like good etiquette to me.”

    I agree. It’s one thing to have your own preference, but it’s quite another to call someone lazy simply because they do not agree.

    If you know someone doesn’t use email or rarely checks it, then it wouldn’t be particularly thoughtful to send e-greetings. But for many recipients it’s perfectly acceptable and sometimes even preferred.

    • admin December 23, 2013, 7:25 am

      The OP in the submission admits to being too busy to write a short note, sign cards, hand address them and mail them. So he chooses to draft a mass email that gets blasted to his friends and family. We are all busy. It’s how we choose to prioritize our time that makes it possible for some people to send more personalized holiday greetings and others, who did not prioritize time well, to cop out with an electronic communication.

      We are drowning in a sea of digital communication where one holiday greeting email or tweet is hardly recognizable from the hundreds of other messages whereas a Christmas card is clearly quite different than a bill or mailed advertising mailer. Messages getting lost in this sea of digital communication is a real dilemma. Several past winners of prizes Ehell has given away know this firsthand since the announcement of the win, sent by email, was either overlooked amidst that sea of other messages or redirected to junk folders and when finally discovered, it was too late and the prize had been re-awarded to another entry. If people can so easily miss an important email announcement that they have won a prize, who can trust that their emailed holiday greeting will reach its destination and be read in a timely fashion?

      Btw, I do use digital forms of holiday greetings. I’m a fan of JibJab. BUT I also send hand written/addressed physical Christmas cards through the mail, too. I’ve been working online for nearly 20 years and I know too well how flaky digital communication can be. I consider e-cards icing on the cake but not the main way I deliver holiday greetings.

  • The Elf December 18, 2013, 2:41 pm

    The value of the Christmas letter depends entirely on how they wrote it. I enjoy a newsy, brief, letter. I like a funny letter. One sent me a poem! I hate the humblebrag.

  • kingsrings December 18, 2013, 2:46 pm

    I’m with admin. I’m not going to get all up in arms over receiving an emailed Christmas card or letter, if that’s the best way for the sender to send them out, then I understand and accept it. However, I would prefer paper as well for the same reasons the admin stated. They’re so much more decorative, pretty, touching, and sentimental! Plus, I like to display them around my home. I also agree with another poster who said they might mistake an emailed card or letter for spam and simply delete it without checking first. I would do the same, especially since I receive so much spam. And I love Christmas newsletters, as long as the sender doesn’t make them too long by discussing EVERYTHING they/their family did that year. Feel people care so much that they need to know everything! Keep it simple!

  • SV December 18, 2013, 3:23 pm

    I’m actually ambivilant about this one. I always send Christmas cards by mail and take great pleasure in receiving them. That being said, Christmas cards are a fading tradition and since traditions change and evolve with the passage of time, I don’t see anything wrong with embracing the new trend of e-cards and letters. Do what feels best for you, OP 🙂

  • Huh December 18, 2013, 3:46 pm

    I thought I was the only one who saved old Christmas cards for gift tags/decoration the next year! It’s something I picked up from my great-grandma, who lived through the Great Depression and never wasted ANYTHING.

    I like getting the cards, I tape them to my hallway doorframe for decoration. This year, it seems like no one is sending any, I only got a few. I just sent out mine the other day though, so maybe everyone else is running behind too. I wouldn’t care if someone sent me an email greeting, Facebook, whatever, it’s still the thought that counts.

  • Alice December 18, 2013, 3:58 pm

    I think Admin is being overly harsh in her opinion. Like someone above said, it’s better to send something than not send anything at all, also, if you know the people you’re sending them to well then you might know who would appreciate an actual Holiday Card, who would rather get an e-mail and who just doesn’t care at all.

    The world moves forward and new traditions are coming up, but what’s important is the intent in your actions.

  • KB December 18, 2013, 7:50 pm

    Wow, I have to say I completely disagree here. I still sent Christmas cards via mail, but that’s because I like to do it. E-mail isn’t lazy. If I’m writing an e-ail, I still sit down, think about what I’m writing, and put effort into making it an enjoyable read or an interesting update instead of just, “how r u? were all good here, merry xmas! -KB”

    Just because you prefer a card doesn’t make it the “polite” thing to do, nor does it make using e-mail subpar etiquette. Someone is taking the time to write, or type, something for you, to you, letting you know how they are and that they’re thinking of you, expressing interest in your activities, and wishing you well. Yes, how lazy and inconsiderate to put in email addresses and hit “send” compared to hitting “print 10 copies,” sticking a few stamps on envelopes, and tossing them in the mailbox!

    When I e-mail friends and family, which I do on non-special occasions, I also make each one personal instead of sending a mass e-mail, so I fail to see how it’s lazy. It’s the thought that counts, not the amount of postage stamps, paper, and ink. Take pleasure in the fact that people even send e-mails. Too many people neglect even that these days. Card or e-mail, someone did something to communicate with you. Smile. Be thankful. Don’t condemn because it’s on a screen instead of in your hand.

    We’re in a techie generation. After all, we aren’t sending these comments and thoughts in via letter to the Etiquette Hell magazine we get sent in the mail, are we?

  • Klara December 18, 2013, 8:10 pm

    I don’t think it’s unfathomable to email holiday greetings; I would suspect it’s the trend as we become more digitized. And lately, the only holiday cards I’ve gotten are from my credit card companies. However personally, I know I read email differently than I read letters. When I read email, I don’t savor it the same way I do a letter and it’s so exciting to get mail that isn’t bills. I think, part of it is that I get emails from friends on a semi-regular basis throughout the year. It’s normal. Rarely, do I get cards or letters, so when I do get them, it’s more magical. But if it becomes commonplace to send email on the few occasions that might otherwise result in a card, then it is just going to be the credit card companies left and that’s a whole lot less magic. Communication then becomes no different than the rest of the year.

    Myself, I don’t have a super extended network of friends/family, so I wrote about 10 cards this year. But I write letters inside. It takes me about 30-45 minutes a card. I will (maybe) get 3-4 cards back. But I don’t do it because I expect mail back. I do it because it gives me joy to send cards/letters, which others might savor in the same manner I do. The time and the cost of writing and sending the card is my gift to them.

  • babs December 18, 2013, 9:06 pm

    I’ve actually changed my opinion from the time I first started reading this thread to now, as I contribute my take on the subject. I was going to say, it doesn’t matter – either way is fine. I’m still fine getting an eCard, especially one that is personalized, and not sent as a group. We send cards every year, although we’ve whittled them down to around 25-30. My husband has been harping on me to get on those cards! He has his own list of people to send to, so he doesn’t get off scott-free. So, I got to the cards tonight, and I have to say, the little personal notes I put in each card – just jotting a few sentences about what is going on with us and making mention of something personal about each person or family – was really special. I think if it’s special to me, it has to be special to the recipient. If you only have the time, or the resources to get out eCards (many people are struggling so badly they are hard pressed just to provide Christmas for their family), that’s fine with me. I love hearing from friends and family either way, and I really don’t consider it a breach of etiquette, just an individual choice of what works best for each person. But just finishing my Christmas cards has made me realize that this is the way I want to keep doing them, as I feel more connected to dear friends and family, and I’m assuming that the recipients feel the same.

    I glad my husband nagged me. He’s at the dining room table right now writing the cards assigned to him.

  • Kate December 18, 2013, 10:07 pm

    I agree with the points about being environmentally friendly and saving money – the one I don’t buy is that everyone is so frantically busy they have no time for holiday cards. Everyone is busy, it’s just about time management. I usually start early and do two to three cards a night which takes a maximum ten minutes. You can do it while you’re waiting for dinner to finish simmering.

    I personally like to send and receive paper cards, but they’re not an expectation, more of a happy surprise. I’d be fine with an e-card or video card as well – the person has clearly put a bit of thought and effort into it regardless of the medium.

  • NostalgicGal December 18, 2013, 11:15 pm

    I don’t mind e-greetings. I do send e-greetings. I send some cards, but not just for Christmas. Yes I still even send letters. I do not go out of my way to send a long Christmas card list, I got out of that some decades ago….

    A company I worked for, I came in as a temp and ended up getting hired and promoted into ‘floor management’. (aka I got the ‘fertilizer’ going both ways). During the holiday season it was tradition for people to take turns bringing food to share. If I started looking about six weeks out, I could get chips and crackers and other ‘hard’ snackfoods on sale and still well within date. One particular store had these cardboard reuseable totes that would hold 2-3 brown grocery bags worth of stuff for cheap; and I would fill a couple of these with food to share. I worked with a total of about 130 people and would fill a buffet table with food on my turn (buying the veggie tray ingredients and dip makings the day before, and making the dip & set the trays that night and refrigerating it) And save some stuff to put out for the second shift.
    For what it cost me to buy that many cards, even ‘a zillion to a box’ cards, and give everyone one; I could instead share lavishly on my turn (cookies, candy including chocolate, crackers, veggies, dip, chips….) and it was looked forward to; I often took the last day before the holiday break.

    A large Christmas card list can be quite expensive, period. I’ll send the e-greet and accept them in return; pick up the phone or Skype, and be happy. Not that it isn’t great if you send a well picked and handwritten card or card and letter; but I no longer feel locked into that expense. And. I’ve gotten the ‘holiday card and family letter’ as late as February; it all depends on what life was doing to the sender. (and as I reassure my local post office, I still DO send and receive lots of stuff and try to do my part to keep them in business)

  • Anonymous December 19, 2013, 1:10 am

    Another thing–with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, a lot of people simply know more people these days. All because of Facebook, I’ve remained in touch with, or reconnected with, friends from high school, university, summer camp, my women’s group, and various other places I’ve been to, and groups I’ve participated in. When I was a kid, those things didn’t exist, long-distance phone calls were often prohibitively expensive, and so, regular mail was the only way to keep in touch with out-of-town friends and relatives. This was a bit of a time-suck, as you’d have to sit down and write a proper letter, and find time to mail it, and it’d take at least a week before it even arrived, and more time before you got a response. So, considering that people had full lives, with work, school, immediate family, and (geographically) closer friends, long-distance correspondence often fell by the wayside–out of sight, out of mind, after all. So, back then, a person’s Christmas card list might consist of 20 or 30 people, as opposed to now, when people have literally hundreds of friends on their social media of choice. I don’t send Christmas cards, because where would I draw the line? People I’m in regular contact with? No, that won’t do–I have good friends in law school, who barely come up for air. People who live close enough so that their cards aren’t likely to get lost in the international mail system? No, that’s no good either–I have friends who live all over the world. Should I rank my friends in order of closeness? I’m not even going to go there. So, instead, I just try to keep in regular contact with the people I care about, via Facebook, Skype, or however we mutually decide is best for us.

  • nk December 19, 2013, 1:56 am

    Do you really judge people’s communication with you by how much time they spend preparing it? I would rather have a meaningful email that someone wrote me than a generic Hallmark card that they took the time to sign, stamp, and mail.

  • TJ December 19, 2013, 9:14 am

    At one point in time people sent telegrams too. I tend to think that the medium is not as important as the content. By your standard, a glittery card with a tree on the front and a name written inside has more value than a really heartfelt email with a “card” attached. I disagree. You should leverage the technology to deliver the most effective message. I wasn’t doing to do anything this year because didn’t have time to have cards made and all the associated work (postage, addressing, etc) but I do have time for an email and I think I’m going to do that.

  • A December 19, 2013, 10:28 am

    In my opinion, it’s the thought that counts. For awhile I didn’t want to send cards unless I could hand-make them, but I only found time to do this twice! This year I bought cards from the store, wrote a few lines in each, and was happy to send something out. I think whatever form the greeting comes in it’s a little bit of cheer and communication that the sender wanted to share with you.

  • A December 19, 2013, 10:34 am

    I also wanted to add, I think the over thinking on the nature of holiday greetings or gifts really takes away from the spirit of the season. Whether you get an email or paper card, physical gift or just a warm greeting…doesn’t matter.

  • flora December 19, 2013, 10:36 am

    Personally I think email greetings are preferable. No cards I feel obligated to display or pictures I feel guilty about throwing away. But then again, I don’t do Christmas cards. I’d much rather focus my limited holiday time with baking or gifts.
    I, personally, refuse to stress out about the holidays anymore. If I don’t feel like sending out cards, or baking grandma’s special rum balls, I don’t. It’s a personal preference but it’s made my holidays a lot more enjoyable.

  • Angel December 19, 2013, 10:49 am

    I think an email is better than nothing–however I like having the physical cards to decorate my stair railings. I think it looks great. I understand everyone might not feel the same way and I like the emails too–but Christmas is the one time I year I address and send cards by hand. There is something about the beautiful colors and festive little touches that make me happy. And I hope to make my family and friends happy too.

    Usually after all my cards are sent out, I will post a photo of our card on FB on Christmas Eve so anyone who is not on my list can see the photos on the card. It’s nice and makes the rest of my faraway friends feel included. I have a few friends overseas who it’s difficult to send cards to but FB helps us stay connected. 🙂

  • Molly December 19, 2013, 5:40 pm

    I love, love, love to send Christmas cards! I don’t send that many out … maybe 25 or 30 tops. I enjoy looking through the aisle of boxes and finding the card that feel right that year. I enjoy thinking about each person as I write out the greeting and adding something personal. I don’t know … it usually involves a few evenings at the dining room table and some glasses of wine … a pleasant break in the evenings. The cards I do receive get taped around my dining room doorway and they get looked over all season. My family and I have cut out a lot of extraneous gift giving so this is my way of showing my appreciation for their presence in my life.

    I understand not everyone feels this way and I never feel bad if I don’t get a card from someone I sent one to. In fact, I’d rather someone didn’t make the effort if it bothered or annoyed them. I would love an email greeting as well or any other type of message too. Just send what feels right to you and the fact that you are reaching out should be the main focus … not the medium.

  • MichelleP December 20, 2013, 10:41 am

    As a single mom and a student nurse, buying 20+ cards and stamps at nearly 50 cents each is frankly out of my budget. I talk to everyone I would send cards to on Facebook and by phone. I composed a (personalized) letter to everyone I would normally send cards to, and call the rest on Christmas. I’d much rather get that, and give that, than a card with one sentence on it that just gets thrown away.

  • Vrinda December 20, 2013, 12:38 pm

    Some of you are inferring that sending a holiday card means just taking a store bought, one-of-fifty-in-a-box-type card, writing some generic message, and mailing it. That is not what everyone who sends cards does. Many of us take the time to write out a heartfelt message, often taking up all the blank space in the card. If any of you were on my Christmas card list, you would get a nice, store bought, one-of-fifty-in-a-box-type card, with a long letter from me inside, decorated with stickers if there is room. I do this because I like writing and crafts, but also to show I care about this person to whom I am writing and they are worth more to me than a simple “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Christmas cards come on sale every January and are heavily reduced, so there is no excuse that they cost too much. If you want to send them, then buy them at the beginning of the year so you will have them in September. Postage will not put you in the poorhouse if you budget properly. A roll of 100 stamps in the US costs $46 now. Some people on here spend $3-$4 a day on Starbucks, 5 days a week, and that adds up to $60-$80 a month, and $720-$960, and stamps cost too much? If you still prefer emails and ecards, that is fine, if it’s faster, easier, fits in your budget, and the recipients don’t mind, but don’t give a false impression of the economic and environmental impact of sending paper cards. Paper can be recycled, and the cards are also keepsakes.

  • MichelleP December 21, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Vrinda, you make an interesting assumption that “some people here” go to Starbucks every day but yet stamps cost too much. I’m on such a tight budget that I’m using homemade detergent, running only cold water, and washing clothes in the bathtub. Yes, forty plus dollars for stamps is too much.

    I stand by my post. Cards get thrown away. I’d much rather have a heartfelt letter by email.

  • Anonymous December 22, 2013, 10:53 am

    I think this is either a “love languages” thing, or a “whatever works best in your family/social circle” thing. For example, it’s not feasible for me to send a Christmas card to my good friend in Australia who wanted to start that tradition last year, because I live in Canada, and the mail going from Canada to Australia often arrives months late, or not at all–and, last year, when I made my friend a Christmas card and mailed it to her in Australia, it didn’t arrive at all. Some people don’t like to get a lot of mail, because they’re trying to de-clutter, some people don’t want to spend $40 on stamps (which would be a stretch for me), some people don’t know where to draw the line (because the line between “Facebook friends” and “real friends” isn’t always clearly defined, and some people know that most of their friends are always on the computer anyway, and wouldn’t care one way or the other. Still other people prefer to express their festive sentiments through media other than the written word, like the “Christmas Jammies” family, in their epic YouTube video. Other people really like Christmas cards, and can afford the postage, don’t have friends who are too numerous or far-flung, etc., so they send cards. Still, even the “techie” crowd can understand that certain friends of theirs would prefer a Christmas card, and send a few to just those people, because that’s what makes them feel loved–for example, if I was friends with Vrinda in real life, if and I knew that she really liked receiving Christmas cards, and if she lived close enough to me to make “snail mail” feasible, then I’d make a point of sending her a Christmas card each year, even if I didn’t do it for my other friends. But, what I’m really trying to say is, Vrinda and MichelleP, I don’t think arguing over the best way to spread joy around the holidays, is a very good way to spread joy around the holidays.

  • Mabel December 22, 2013, 12:09 pm

    Well, it’s a personal choice whether you send actual Christmas cards (or make them, etc.), or an email letter. E-Hell Admin and others here may choose to do that, but you all can hardly fault someone else for choosing a different method. I’m usually in agreement with most people here, but acting like the handmade or hand-addressed card is better or more special seems a bit haughty to me. I am disappoint.

  • delislice December 23, 2013, 9:44 am

    I love sending and receiving Christmas cards. I put seasonal music on, sit down with a nice cup of tea or cocoa, and enjoy thinking about folks as I address cards.

    My husband’s late father was one of six brothers, so there are lots of relatives on his side of the family we haven’t seen in years and don’t know well … but they are still interested in our doings. So we include a family photo and a brief letter that, in a sentence or two, tells what each person is up to (Delislice is working here, Mr. Deli is working there, Junior Deli is starting college, Jane Deli is in high school … the Deli Dogs are wagging …).

    That’s it. We don’t bore people with fine-print single-spaced brag sheets and we don’t send the newsletters to people whom we think won’t care. But I enjoy the cards, and I really enjoy displaying the ones we receive.

  • Roxas Saix January 5, 2014, 4:15 pm

    I feel like there is a lack of etiquette in the responder here moreso than the OP. You have the nerve to somehow assume that people who do not follow tradition do not actually mean to give special good tidings to their family and friends. I do not know the addresses of all that are important to me, because in this age of technology, not everyone I love are people I’ve loved to their face. Somehow, I’m am one of the only young people on this site who keeps up with the times and accepts that etiquette can change as humans advance.

    I enjoy getting and giving Christmas cards, but with my money in the negative and working almost the entire day just to somewhat keep up with the bills of my family and business, it is not at all possible for me to find time to do so. Not to mention people are assuming they are sending a mass message, while in reality they may just be sending personalized emails. I got a ‘mass message’ from someone sending a card in the mail. Are they somehow better for sending it by hand? It’s still impersonalized.

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