An old friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:
“Roughly 175 Christmas cards signed, sealed and ready to be delivered… My hand is now cramping and my tongue tastes of glue…”
Sure enough, a week later, I received her holiday message in the mail.
I immediately felt guilty. Why? Because this year, I only sent out 25 Christmas cards; last year, I sent out 50; in the years before that, I’d sent out closer to 100 holiday cards.
I’m not the only one whose Christmas card habits have changed over the past few years. According to statistics reported by WRAL news, just 62 percent of people bought Christmas cards in 2011; that’s down from 77 percent just a few years earlier (numbers of 2012 aren’t in yet). WRAL suggest social networking – sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – are behind the trend. It’s a likely cause, but I’d add another hypothesis: the cost of postage.
In 2005 – the first year I was married and sent out holiday cards of my own – a first class stamp cost 37 cents. Sending my 100 Christmas cards cost me $37.00 in postage. Today, with a first class stamp up to $0.45 (going up to $0.46 in 2013), my holiday postage rates would have gone up $8. So I started trimming my list, focusing on those family members and friends who aren’t on Facebook and don’t see the pictures I regularly post there.
Therein lies the problem. It’s unclear exactly how much the United States Postal Service (USPS) makes off the annual flurry of Christmas cards and other holiday mail, but I’d venture to say that it’s an important chunk of the agency’s income. This, of course, is an agency that’s already reached its $15 billion dollar debt limit. In other words, any drop in income is a big deal.
This year, I’ve received markedly fewer Christmas cards in the mail, but I’ve seen then crop up in other places, like my email inbox or my Facebook account. I’m sure part of this is because I’ve trimmed my own list; I’m sure many of those formerly on my Christmas card list cut me from theirs once they stopped receiving mail from me. I’m sure another part is that we just don’t send mail like we used to; other than a Christmas card or a birthday card, when was the last time you sent or received a piece of personal mail?
And then there’s the postage costs. In this economy, an increase of a few pennies for a first class stamp matters to a lot of people. So fewer people buy stamps for their holiday cards, which reduces the USPS’s intake. They need more money, so they increase stamp prices again, and the whole cycle starts anew.
Reader, how many Christmas cards do you send every year? Has this number changed recently? Why or why not?