The Death of Christmas Cards

by Elizabeth on December 17, 2012 · 6 comments

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?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrea December 17, 2012 at 10:17 am

I haven’t sent out Christmas cards at all in the last few years… I typically create one and send it out electronically instead. I do this because postage is expensive, but also because most people just throw the cards in the trash. I can’t justify spending that kind of money for something that will be thrown away. And since even my grandfather has Facebook and email, I don’t feel like people are being left out.

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2 Emily @ evolvingPF December 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I’ve never sent out a Christmas card, and I’ve only ever received one from someone in my age bracket (27). One. And actually it was a specialty designed and printed letter, not a card. I’ve received one or two a year in email form, but generally things are pretty quiet on the written communication front around the holidays.

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3 eemusings December 28, 2012 at 5:19 am

Yeah, I haven’t done the Christmas card thing since my school days when everyone exchanged cards for birthdays and other such occasions. My family used to get a handful and string them up – don’t know if they still do!

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4 Canadian Doomer (@CanadianDoomer) December 17, 2012 at 10:37 pm

This was a good reminder – I picked up cards tonight and I’ll write them up tomorrow. I suppose it depends on the people you’re around. Many of my Mennonite friends don’t use the internet at all. I have a shelf full of Christmas cards, all of them with hand-written notes inside. I’m amazed at the thoughtfulness that went into them. We’re going off-grid in the spring and I can tell you that I’ll really appreciate going to the mailbox next December and getting cards!

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5 The Happy Homeowner December 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Ugh..I’m a Christmas card failure this year. I haven’t sent out a single one, and I’m not sure if I will. The silly part is I’m not quite sure why.. Perhaps I’ll do New Years cards instead! :)

In years past, I’ve sent 25-50.

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6 Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin December 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I think all traditional methods of delivering messages are dying in general. Newspapers, Christmas Cards, etc. This year we sent all our Christmas greeting through email or on Facebook. The only down side is you do not have a physical card to keep but we typically discard them after the holidays anyway.

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