Christmas Cards a Dying Tradition

christmas-cardsIt appears that Christmas cards are going the way of the newspaper. WaPo reports,

For the first two weeks of December, said U.S. Postal Service spokesman Michael Woods, “we are seeing about an 11 percent decrease in first-class cancellations from last year, which is a good proxy for the number of cards and letters coming through the system.”

And although last-minute mailers are still adding to all those waiting baskets, wicker sleighs and refrigerator doors, there are signs that plenty of people are giving hard-copy greetings a complete pass this time around.

“We see a 10 to 15 percent decline in the overall volume of mailed paper greeting cards this year,” said Neil Hendry of Datamonitor, a New York-based retail analysis firm. “There are two principal reasons: technology and the economy.”

Observers say a perfect winter storm may have formed to suppress this year’s holiday mail surge: an unemployment rate that makes a roll of 44-cent stamps one more difficult expense for many people (and adds up to a bleak Christmas letter for friends and family); increasingly popular and cheap or free Internet alternatives such as e-cards and Facebook; and heightened environmental concerns that have some people weighing the carbon footprint of all those cardboard season’s greetings.

While the bad economy is no doubt responsible for some of this dropoff, my guess is that it won’t pick back up significantly.  This may well be a habit that, once broken, never gets restarted.

In the olden days, back when years started with 19- rather than 20-, holiday cards were a wonderful tradition.  They were a way to force people to reconnect with distant friends and relatives once a year, bringing everyone up to speed with what the kids looked like and what everyone was up to.  Nowadays, though, we’re positively inundated with such information from people we’re even remotely connected to.   I get so many updates from my Facebook “friends” that I can’t keep up with them.

While I’m unusual, in that I’ve got a much wider-than-average online network by virtue of nearly eight years of blogging, most Americans under 40 are likely very well connected with their families, friends, and acquaintances through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and various other social networks — not to mention good old fashioned email — that they don’t need to spend hours picking out cards, writing something personal in each one, and then  stamping, addressing, and mailing them to dozens of people.  And, no, mom can’t do it because she’s working a full-time job, too.

That it’s become too much of a chore for most people is evident by the rise of the Christmas newsletter. These mass produced missives, often “authored” by the youngest child or even the family pet, are great time savers.   But the only person who wants a three page recap of what your kids did last year is grandma.  And you should really call or visit her more often.

Lots of holiday traditions are still great.  Eggnog.  Parties.  Kids opening presents.  It’s time to retire this one, though.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    Well, you’re off my list. If I had a list.

  2. 11B40 says:


    I think it’s time to start the US Postal Service’s discussion of Monday, Wednesday, Friday delivery. Most of the mail I get are bills or subscriptions, not stuff that another day will really effect. Both categories are significantly threatened by the Internet. As for the direct mail pieces, again, not terribly time sensitive.

    I worked in the printing industry for many years. When shops started to go down hill, the most common mistake was not to cut deeply enough. As Bruce Springsteen sang, “These jobs are leaving town and they ain’t coming back”.

  3. William Myers says:

    Boring post. Platitudinous, Scarcely worth one’s time.

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    Is it really a decline in Xmas cards causing the 11% decline, or the rise of e-billing? It’s just a proxy, not direct data.

    We send Christmas cards every year and will continue to do so. Something physical has more meaning than a pixel.