How Many Holiday Cards to Send?

As holiday cards trickle into my mailbox this time of year I always feel ambivalent. Should I send cards or not? Who should I send them to? Should I do a chatty letter or just sign my name? Should I select a picture of just the kids or one with my husband and me in it?

Last week Linda wrote a piece on over-the-top Christmas cards ( This week I am turning to the vexing question I go through each year: Should I send cards at all and to whom?  Is a card redundant if everyone on the list is already a Facebook friend?

For some reason the holiday greetings tradition hangs over me like a sword. I feel compelled yet reviled at the same time and that often leads me to procrastinate selecting and even ordering cards. The chore grows more daunting each day as more letters arrive.

First, there is the task of culling through the addresses.  Should the list stay the same just because printing labels is easy?  Should I really send one to the work colleague I haven’t seen in 20 years and might never see again, but I remember when she was pregnant with her first child? What a dilemma. Do I send a family picture out to neighbors and people I see daily, or should I substitute a serene snow scene? At some point does a long obligatory response cycle needs to be severed? My great effort might just be fodder for someone’s fireplace.

Then there is a whole other decision layer. Should I send my greeting the traditional postal method or via “green” email? I still enjoy tearing open an envelope and seeing pictures and stories each year, but I don’t like feeling the pressure to send.

There have been years where I did not mail any and years where I attempted to cut the list in half. There has been periodic procrastination that lasts into January so I can “respond” on an individual level. One year, I photographed the kids dressed in red shirts in an outdoorsy northwest setting, which allowed me to postpone “season’s greetings” until Valentine’s Day.

I started thinking that surely I wasn’t alone in this quandary. I wondered if sending holiday cards was a tradition on the decline due to social media.  As it happened, Vistaprint pondered the same question, although their curiosity must have been born of marketing necessity. Their survey found that 63% of adults planned to send a paper holiday card in 2011, despite the use of social networks. Darn, majority rules.

And, in spite of the solvency problems of the USPS (United States Postal Service), December 2011 is shaping up well for their business. The USPS estimates delivering 16.5 billion cards, letters and packages this season, up from 15.8 billion last year.  This information was surprising to me and bad news for anyone looking to taper the tradition. If you don’t send a card your friends will just wonder –as mine did the year I didn’t send any — if something is wrong or if you are sore at them.

I must confess that this year most of my cards went out early December. This one-time-only situation is unlikely to be repeated, but I consider it the crowning achievement of my card-procrastinating lifestyle. This momentous event prompted a text from a lifelong friend, “OMG you already sent out your holiday card? Help me with mine, I’m desperate.”

Most likely I will be deliberating over the same questions next year. But for now, my holidays just got less stressful with one major task off the list.

Carol Lewis  Gullstad   December 12, 2011

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