It's the season to be jolly, and what better way to share it with far-flung loved ones, old work colleagues and distant relatives than with a card?
Our snail-mail boxes are never so full as in December. Not just cards, but parcels and letters make their way across the continent in record numbers, according to Australia Post.
“Last year we delivered an additional 100,000 parcels a day over the Christmas period compared to the year before and we’re predicting this Christmas will be just as busy, if not busier,” said Ahmed Fahour, Managing Director and CEO of Australia Post.
With all this mail winging its way across the country, it's a good time to look at a fine old tradition: the sending of holiday cards. Does it still have a place in the digital age?
“Sending holiday cards is a custom that I’m pleasantly surprised hasn’t gone away,” said Peggy Post, etiquette expert and author. Director of The Emily Post Institute, Peggy is also great granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post, the last word in modern manners since the 1920s.
“Etiquette is really about being respectful and considerate. How we live that out through manners changes all the time as the world changes, and like Emily Post always did, we need to keep up with the times,” she said.
One of the first documented holiday cards was an experiment to see how Britain's newly established postal service might serve the common folk. British civil servant Sir Henry Cole collaborated with artist friend John Horsley on a card that featured a child being fed wine, which caused quite an uproar.
In 1875, American printer Louis Prang created the first mass-produced Christmas cards and a tradition was born.
Today’s cards range from simple cursive wishes for 'Joy and Peace in the New Year' to handmade printed family photo collages, detailed letters and religion-specific missives.
But are all these different takes on the tradition acceptable - and how do you navigate them?
1. Trust Your Instincts
According to Peggy Post, for the most part, they’re just fine.
"It’s fundamentally about communicating and keeping in touch, and that’s a nice thing, though people may approach it differently,” she said.
2. Modern or Traditional?
According to Kacy Lubell, founder-designer of letterpress stationery company Letters Lubell, you don’t have to choose. When it comes to the etiquette of aesthetics, the key is to combine old-world mediums with fresh details to modernise.
“You can use modern fonts or classic italics with less expected colours like neons, as a nice alternative to the red and green or blue and silver norm," Kacy said.
"You can choose a more posed photo, but with a more casual or slang greeting or consider a playful layout with the words in a band surrounding the photo.”
3. E-Cards or Paper Notes?
The inevitable question remains: can an e-card do the trick?
“People still like the warmth of a handwritten card or envelope, but an e-card is certainly acceptable, especially from a business colleague,” said Peggy. “They’re not as personal, but they’re definitely better than nothing.”
4. When to Send — and When Is Too Late?
Peggy feels that holiday cards can arrive anytime from the beginning of December to early January, if the sentiment references the New Year. And, while she cites a pal who sends her cards around Valentine’s Day, as a joke after years of lateness, Peggy does recommend sticking as close to the holidays as possible.
5. To Give and Receive
Though there’s no obligation to return the gesture if someone sends a card, Peggy recommended reciprocating if you’re sending out a big batch anyway. On the other hand, it’s OK to slim the list down.
“Think about what the person means to you. For instance, it may be a best friend from high school whom you haven’t seen in 15 years or a neighbor who moved across country. Mostly, you want to be sincere and honest, which is a benchmark of etiquette,” she said.
6. Be Sensitive to the Recipient
Regardless of whether it’s been two years or two days since you’ve last connected with your friend or family member, think before you send.
“[Sending a card] is the same as giving a gift,” asserted Peggy. “Try to do something that represents your personality, but do match it up to what you think that person might like to receive. It’s extra kind to think about someone who might have had a loss in the last year and include a personal note too. The holidays can be hard.”
7. Personalise Your Card
Adding a personal salutation, short note or signature can add warmth to any mass produced card. People appreciate the time it takes to individualise or to make a homemade card.
After the season is over, if you struggle with how long to keep cards, especially ones with pictures of your friends' kids, Peggy said you’re under no obligation to keep them longer than you like. After all, displaying the cards is about projecting your personality too. And you can do what you want. That’s just etiquette.
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