Image by Lyn Millett via Flickr
This time of year often brings discussion of whether technology has eliminated or will eliminate paper holiday cards. But I also remember hearing similar discussions 10, 15 years ago. And, of course, we have been lamenting the death of the personal letter for decades.
I send paper holiday cards in the mail. I may have skipped a year or two here and there, but I try to send them every year. My list of recipients is a bit long, and eclectic. It includes my childhood pastor's wife (even though I think I'm considered, accurately, pretty much an apostate), an elementary schoolteacher, college professors, a couple of ex-bosses, the usual assortment of friends from various ages and stages, a lot of extended family (if I skip one, they'll all find out, so I might as well keep the list complete!) and, in recent years, some friendly professional contacts, and so on.
There seem to be some competing forces (also known as... sources of guilt) about whether you do or don't, should or shouldn't send them. On the one hand, as is well-documented, women tend to do more than their share of relationship maintenance and so the burden of personal household correspondence typically falls to them. But who has the time? On the other hand, we all know (and lament) the increasing isolation imposed by the constraints of modern society. Reaching out at the holidays seems at least one way to maintain connections. There's also there's this weird trend, which I come across now and then and have decided to just treat as utterly alien, that somehow if you don't hand address and write a long personal note in every card, then you've committed a massive etiquette faux pas. Sigh. Who has time for that? (On this, I think holiday cards are different from thank you notes - haven't checked to see whether Miss Manners agrees.)
So I keep doing it, so far, for a few reasons.
One might wonder how meaningful a card can be if both the card and mailing labels were automatically generated without any personalization for the recipient. But for myself, I find that the act of working up the list (and generating the address labels - which is a bit of a chore; see below) and then placing the labels on the envelopes - even if, as this year, I don't have the time to even scrawl a signature, means that I spend a moment or two thinking about the recipients and wondering what they're up to. This is more than I would if I didn't send cards at all. And it is in this sense that I find even the most mass-produced unpersonalized physical holiday cards to have an advantage over a mass e-mailing, which could conceivably be done with but one or two clicks, once the email addresses are in a list. In the best case, I would add a personal handwritten note to each card we send, but I figure even sending a card without a note signals that at least we're thinking of them.
My threshold for culling our list (which tends to grow monotonically even so) tends to be: Have I heard a peep from this person in any medium at all at any time in the last year or two? (And, of course, are we generally well-disposed towards them and/or do we want to stay in touch for some reason.)
All of that said, really, any type of holiday greetings are great, cards, email, waves in the parking lot at kid dropoff. But I also don't think there's an obligation here. I send plenty of cards to people who never reciprocate. It's not a contest. And I completely understand the decision to not spend time on this particularly holiday activity in favor of other things.
Anyway, here are two of the technology crutches I lean on for our holiday card generation process:
- The mailing list. I try to update my contact database, which is currently kept in my Microsoft Exchange account, whenever I get new information over the course of the year. Unfortunately, I find Outlook completely intractable in terms of generating mailing labels, so we have a semi-manual process for that. Once the labels are generated, due to the inflexibility of Outlook, I have to manually check each one, add spouses names where appropriate, remove duplicates (I tend to keep data on couples where I know each of them as separate entries in my contacts database *shock!*), and just generally looks for bugs, and so on.
- The card itself. For years now I've been creating photo cards. There are many services available and pretty much the entire price range to choose from. Since we send so many cards (well, I consider it a lot, some might not), I gravitate towards the cheaper versions rather than the lovely, fancy multi-fold card stock. We use KodakGallery, but mostly because of inertia and lack of time to investigate other options. The quality is pretty good.
It's December 23rd. And we still haven't sent our cards yet. This has happened before. So, our cards say nothing about Christmas, not only because many on our list don't celebrate Christmas, but also because it's completely unknown each year whether the cards will be out in time for Christmas, or even New Year's. One year I think they were sort of Valentine's Day cards. Five years from now I might have transitioned completely to electronic greetings and/or ditched the effort all together. But in the meantime, I'll enjoy our little envelope stuffing ritual. And soon enough (next year probably) the kiddo will be old enough to do a bunch of that himself. Ahhhh...sweet, sweet task delegation!!