Christmas card etiquette and the lost art of sincerity

Christmas cards. The Royal Mail says they’re making a comeback (I didn’t know they’d disappeared, but still) and apparently 80% of us prefer a traditional paper Christmas card to a virtual Christmas message, which is hardly surprising given that there’s nothing particularly personal about a Christmas tweet.

The last dates for posting cards in the UK with Royal Mail are Tuesday 18th December (2nd class) and Thursday 20th December (1st class), so you’ve still got time to send your messages of seasonal goodwill.

Posting Christmas cards

Posting Christmas cards

Christmas cards are the perfect opportunity to catch up with old friends, send festive greetings to cherished family members, or a heartfelt message of benevolence to valued customers and clients.

Yet throughout the land, Postie is struggling under the weight of delivering missed opportunities.

Because of course, nothing says ‘Happy Christmas’ less than mass-produced corporate cards with pre-printed signatures, cards from family and friends with nothing more than hastily penned autographs or, shudder, cards sent via the office franking machine.

Or is it just me?

The corporate Christmas card offender

Let’s take the corporate offender. The pre-printed names may well be scribbled at quirky angles, but they’re still fake autographs. Had Bob, Lynda, Clive or Joyce put actual pen to paper to add a personal message, I just might have been overcome with a surge of festive good feeling for their business. Yet, as it is, there is absolutely nothing special or personal about receiving a card that 200 other customers or clients will receive, and nothing more effective than the bland corporate card of a snowy winter scene to tell me that I am just an insignificant number amongst lots of other insignificant numbers.

Neighbourly laziness

And what of neighbours, or worse still, friends and family who are so detached from the ultimate purpose of the card sending tradition (which, of course, is to actually send genuine messages of seasonal goodwill) that they can’t even be bothered to write your name?

When is it ever appropriate to send greetings cards without actually writing “Dear…” or at the very least, “To…”? It wouldn’t happen on birthday cards (would it?) so why do people get all word-miserly when it comes to Christmas cards? Perhaps people feel overwhelmed by the mountain of cards they need to send, but according the Royal Mail, on average we send only 19 cards each, so it can’t be that, can it?

Christmas card mountain

Christmas card mountain

Production line disinterest

Whatever the reason, nothing spells ‘production line disinterest’ more than a card with nothing but a signature.  It’s as though the pre-written stock greeting of “Merry Christmas” (courtesy of Mr M&S or Mr Next – other Christmas card vendors are available) says it all. Well, what more is there to add?

Of course, some people do stretch to a “Dear Bob and Jane / Merry Christmas [as standard] / Jim and Elaine”. Marginally better in that a smidge more time, thought and effort has been invested, but no more heartfelt. Not even a ‘Love from’ or even just a ‘From’.

Still, it could be worse. In the past we’ve been the lucky recipients of a card with “To Number 12” enticingly emblazoned on the envelope, with nothing more than a “from Number 6”* as the special message scrawled inside. And it promised so much, too. Sigh.

The franking machine – the correspondence equivalent of a slap round the face

And then of course, there’s the dreaded franked envelope. Whilst I agree that postage prices are out of control and the value for money from Postie is often questionable, circumventing postal service fees through the inappropriate use of the office franking machine is, to the recipient, the correspondence equivalent of a slap round the face. And who wants one of those?

Franked mail only mailbox

Franked mail only mailbox – a Christmas card no no

One friend in particular is an habitual abuser of the franking machine and even thought it appropriate to send our wedding card courtesy of her employer. Was it an over-reaction to be offended? Perhaps, but either way, the message was clear. I quite like you, but not enough to spend my own pennies on telling you so.

Send a text if you must (so long as it’s not one of those pointless round-robins), but the franked envelope is a no-no. Sorry.

Make it personal

If the recipient is on your list, they’re there for a reason, right? As with any form of communication, the audience trumps everything else and the personal approach is the only option. It doesn’t need to be an essay, just a few simple words to prove to the recipient you’re not a machine.

Inject a little personality. Even a simple “Hope to catch up in the new year” or some handwritten quotation marks around the pre-printed message (to symbolize that you actually agree with the message) is better than a squiggle from Mr Can’t Be Arsed.

Christmas card short-cuts – charity and child labour

And, if you really can’t be arsed, why not take a lesson from some of my friends, many of whom have already announced their commitment to donate to charity in lieu of sending cards, which is a genius way of (1) quite literally buying yourself a few extra hours of your life (2) avoiding the need to sell your children to pay for the postal fees (3) avoiding something you have no interest in and (4) improving your reputation as the generous charity donor. Everyone’s a winner with charity donations.

Either that, or employ child labour. One friend has ingeniously trained her three year old to write their cards,

“I write the names on a list, he goes through one by one writing the person it’s to, then puts his name at the bottom (and lots of kisses) then ticks off his list. All very meticulous.”

Now that’s personal and cute.

*Details may have been changed to protect neighbourly relations.

Related Christmas card etiquette and grumble links

It’s good to share

I can’t be alone – can I? What are your Christmas card grumbles? Get it off your chest below.


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