Nine Tips for Good Christmas Card Etiquette

My own 2009 Christmas card

It's December, and many of us are about to embark upon the annual task of sending out Christmas cards to our friends and loved ones. It's pretty much the only personal snail mail we deal with anymore, so allow me to horn in on your holiday plans with my unsolicited advice.

  1. If you receive a card from someone, send them a card in return. Don't use that lame "I never send cards" excuse. Unless you simply dislike the person, return the compliment. If it's too late for Christmas - I've been surprised by cards from long-lost friends just days before or even after the 25th - then send them a New Year's card, or at least an emailed thank-you and a silent vow to reciprocate next year.
  2. Photos of your kids are okay, but include yourself in at least one of those photos. You think you're too old and haggard to be caught on camera? Well, I guarantee you that your friends are still more interested in seeing you than in seeing your kids.
  3. "Holidays" no. "Christmas" yes. Allow me to rant: Although I'm not a Christian, I have great disdain for the way the generic and impersonal "happy holidays" has supplanted "Merry Christmas" here in the US. Everyone's afraid of offending someone, I guess, even though more than 9 out of 10 Americans do in fact celebrate Christmas on December 25th, including grumpy old me. 2013 in particular proves the pointlessness of this politically correct phrase. Since Hanukkah this year is over by December 4th, why would you wish your Jewish friends "happy holidays" later in the month? What plural "holidays" could they be celebrating? If you're that confused about what your friends do in late December - and frankly, you should know by now - then send them a New Year's card. Or a "Peace on Earth" card. Or even a Yule card! But let's put a moratorium on "happy holidays". The phrase is now even being uttered before Thanksgiving, Independence Day, and so forth. Seriously, who in the US could you possibly offend by wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving?
  4. If possible, ask for your friends' addresses far in advance, without explicitly stating, "I want to send you a card." There should be something unexpected about finding a Christmas card in your mailbox, even if you get one from the same person every year.
  5. Never send the same card two years in a row. This should go without saying.
  6. Never use those free cards that charities send you in the mail (as they try to procure a donation from you). I'm not materialistic, but if I turn a card around and see a Habitat for Humanity or Nature Conservancy logo on it, I think it's tacky. If you can't afford to buy any cards, then make them. Don't send out freebies.
  7. Add a personal note. Most people just sign their names. I like to take an extra minute to write something and make the card a little more special.
  8. If you're going to include a summary of your year, great, but limit it to one page. I had a somewhat narcissistic friend who, no joke, circulated an exhausting 8-page manuscript one year. For this and many other reasons, that person is no longer my friend.
  9. Corollary to #3: Unless you know your friends are highly religious, don't send out highly religious Christmas cards. My wife and I once got a card from staunchly Catholic friends of the family, and it had an illustration of a bloody, crucified Jesus on it. Creepy. And more like a "Good Friday card" than a Christmas card.