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How to Make a Christmas Statement? Send a Card

By Martha Michael

Benefits to Christmas Cards

If you’re over 40 you remember the days when nearly every family exchanged Christmas cards, at least whenever possible. The communications landscape has changed, of course, so it’s a good time to weigh the differences between the various forms of contact available to us today, both digital and otherwise.

Are There Benefits to Christmas Cards?

The tradition of sending holiday cards is longstanding and the nature of its effect on an individual varies according to their age, says an article in Psychology Today. Karen Fingerman, PhD, looks back at her research on the topic from 20 years ago. As expected, the content of cards differs for each age group.

Her research shows that older adults see cards as a connection to the past and they particularly like to see personal notes from the sender. The types of cards they receive tend to be more sentimental than those chosen by young people who are more likely to send funny, less formal cards. The effects on the younger crowd still run beneath the surface, however. They report an increased intention to build on relationships when friends reach out to them through holiday cards.

Older adults feel more socially connected when they get holiday cards, and that form of contact makes up for a lack of physical connection throughout the year.

“Personally, I’m old school,” Fingerman says. “I still let people know that I remember them, that they have meaning in my life, and that we retain a connection over time and place the way I always have. I’ve gotten lazier and photocopy my holiday letter -- but I sign each card, put stamps on envelopes and march uphill to the mailbox.”

Does Digital Use Make Cards Obsolete?

In the days when we only heard from people once a year, mailed exchanges were meaningful, and in some people’s opinion, an important tradition. But today anyone with a screen can keep in touch daily -- even hourly. An article in Good Housekeeping questions the relevance of Christmas cards now that we have constant contact on the internet.

“Thanks to now-ubiquitous social media, not only do I know what my parents, friends, and people I barely spoke to in college are up to -- I can also see virtually endless photos of them at any time (not to mention their meals, pets, and favorite memes),” writer Lizz Schumer says. “That makes Christmas cards with an annually updated family photo, bland sentiments, or sometimes-lengthy written insert, all but obsolete.”

Schumer suggests eliminating the practice altogether, citing reasons from poor motives to oversharing. She does, however, recommend choosing other methods to touch base. You can streamline your list to include only your most meaningful relationships and reach out through a personal email or phone call. It may be a relative you rarely see or a catch-up call with a high school friend back home.

Does Digital Drive Card Exchanging?

The practice has ebbed and flowed, but there’s been a resurgence of interest in sending holiday cards, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. While some people find them redundant and have discontinued the practice, millennials are fans, in part because it is a form of tangible messaging in a world of buzzing devices and overstuffed email inboxes.

“There’s something very tactile and emotionally connective,” says Patrick Priore, chief merchant at Paper Source. “People save cards. It’s a keepsake, but it’s also an expression of whatever sentiment you’re trying to convey.”

People sending the cards aren’t necessarily in Hallmark stores picking out a design -- many are created on laptops. Stores saw a shift away from card sales for a few years, but young adults decided messaging through e-cards and email wasn’t as meaningful, so they returned to the tradition of physical cards through the mail. Online retailer Shutterfly prints more than 8 million cards per day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But even without considering the custom photo variety, holiday card sales have proved stable, totaling nearly 2 billion per year, according to Peter Doherty, executive director of the Greeting Card Association.

Far from being a death knell to paper cards, the digital age has seemed to fuel a return to the practice. A tangible holiday card is a move away from mass mailings and impersonal gestures and it may be more important than ever this year. When large numbers of friends and family members cannot meet or touch due to the pandemic, reaching out to touch one another may resemble the past -- which is connecting through the post.

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