On one side of the gold-wrapped chocolate coin in your Christmas stocking, there’s Kathleen Snider, of Alameda, Calif., who was simply stunned to get a detailed, family update holiday letter in the mail from a friend last year because she figured everyone is on Facebook now and no one sends holiday cards or letters anymore.
“I have to say, I thought it was archaic. I mean, I’m 53, and I thought it was something really old people did,” Snider said while shopping in Cost Plus World Market in Oakland, Calif., recently. She picked up a small box of hard-copy Christmas cards she plans to send only to a few relatives “who still like to get mail.”
On the flip side, there’s Janice Hitchcock of Albany, who uses Facebook but still snail mails 90-plus cards every holiday season, staying up deep into many a silent night writing, editing and perfecting her annual holiday letter as her husband, Steve, adds his own personal notes in the margins. They even keep all the cards they received from friends from the year before and reread them so as to make up-to-date individual comments in every note.
“I think people realize a status update on Facebook is not a greeting,” Hitchcock, 63, said. “An e-card might be a greeting, but it’s so easy to just delete it. It feels so cold.”
To be sure, the ever-increasing use of social media might someday freeze out the holiday card and letter. E-cards, apps and online photo sharing offer efficiency and the possibility of incorporating your own smiling face on a little animated reindeer doing the cancan, all while saving forests of trees.
Yet while such methods may exclusively herald the holidays in the future, it hasn’t happened yet.
Lots of folks see the once-a-year Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or New Year’s card almost as a small gift, bringing joy to each friend’s individual world. And with everyone spending so much time online these days, some people say they’ve been invigorated to mail even more real cards and letters. And more personalized ones at that, often handcrafted with individual designs and family photos.
Do you mail what I mail?
It’s not strictly a generational thing either. Amanda Runion is 26 and in the process of moving from Eugene, Ore., to the San Francisco Bay area. She and her five roommates in Eugene just finished making their own group Christmas card.
“It’s intentionally super-tacky,” she said. “We all put on ugly Christmas sweaters and posed in front of our garish bright-orange fireplace. Some of us are including actual letters, I think, and some of us are just signing or writing quick notes. So it was just for fun, but obviously we want to say ‘hi’ to our friends and family as well.”
Michelle Balletti, of Tracy, Calif., is 36 with a 2-year-old son and has always mailed out cards.
“Even my best friend, who I’ve known all my life — she may already know everything about me, but I still send her cards,” she said. “She has a glass wall in her house, and they put them all up on there. It’s part of her Christmas decorations.”
Conversely, Elisabeth Seaman, of Los Altos, Calif., who describes herself as a “youthful great-grandmother,” hasn’t sent Christmas cards in years, the practice having been discontinued in her family even before the explosion of email. For birthdays and some other occasions she’ll send a decorative, musical e-card with a personal greeting on each. For graduations and weddings she’ll send paper cards, and she makes note cards from nature photos she’s taken.
But at the holidays “I keep in touch with friends and family mostly by email, phone and Skype,” she said.
A recent study by online marketing firm Vistaprint and Zoomerang Online Surveys and Polls showed that, despite the growth of social media, holiday cards are still popular, with 63 percent of 1,000 men and women surveyed nationwide saying they would mail tangible greetings in 2011.
You can bet Hallmark isn’t sending itself a sympathy card yet. In fact, while the greeting-card giant’s e-card business is certainly growing, paper greetings aren’t going anywhere and “will always be our focus,” said Hallmark spokeswoman Jaci Twidwell.
“Digital tools serve a very different purpose than greeting cards, something that’s apparent in the fact that, even with the explosive growth of things like Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare, there has not been a corresponding decline in greeting cards,” she said, adding that many of the “friends” you have on social media sites are not necessarily people you’d send cards to anyway.
She cited a nationwide study sponsored by Hallmark in 2010, conducted by an independent research firm, which asked more than 4,000 consumers about their preferred method of conveying holiday greetings (Hallmark was not named in the queries). Hard-copy cards won hands down over e-cards, email or even phone calls.
“Electronic communication is great for sharing information,” Twidwell said. “Cards are better for sharing emotions.”
Even the U.S. Postal Service, which clearly has been hit hard by online bill paying and communications and now faces severe cutbacks, still expects healthy holiday volume this season, said Augustine Ruiz Jr., spokesman for the Bay-Valley District of the USPS in San Jose, Calif.
“Most have discovered that email and text greetings don’t look decorative on the Christmas tree or mantle,” Ruiz said.
Pam Pitts, of Danville, Calif., may be single-handedly keeping the post office in business, planning to send “tons” of cards this year, handcrafted in six different designs and personal notes. She works in the front office of the Oakland A’s and has made hundreds of friends over the years as players and their families come and go.
“I love getting cards and photos from those people every year,” she said. “It’s really meaningful to me, and I want to communicate directly to each individual myself. I figure you can make that effort once a year. If you can’t think of me more than just a mass posting on your Facebook page, then no thanks.”
Tips for good holiday letters
Keep it brief. Never more than one page.
Don’t brag. Share good news, but avoid gloating.
Don’t embarrass your family. Let them read it before you send.
Proofread for grammatical errors.
Read it out loud before sending.
Add a personal note so it doesn’t feel like a form letter.
Send only to people you feel will really care about your family’s news, not to mere acquaintances.
If a letter is included as an email attachment, send each message individually rather than mass email.
Above all, enjoy yourself. If it’s a chore, don’t do it. That will come through in print.
P.S. Dec. 20 is the last day to mail holiday cards in time for Christmas.