Why I’ve Stopped Sending Holiday Photo Cards

We used to go all out. This year, my urge to share has already been well sated.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Flickr

Because I married a photographer, once we had children, our holiday cards of course became vehicles for their cuteness and his creativity. In 2000, baby number one’s chubby smiling face in a Santa hat was the cover image. In 2004, our now-four faces were ornaments on a tree. By 2006, we donned stocking caps and lay down in bed together with a thought bubble over our sleeping heads filled with cherries and the headline “While Visions of Sugar Plums Danced in Their Heads.” Our best card was our last, in 2010. We dressed in extravagant holiday finery, gowns, jackets and bow-ties, except that my husband couldn’t find any tuxedo pants, so he wore the cummerbund over tartan boxers. We arranged ourselves tableau-style before a bookcase, holding what we hoped looked like hymnals and making Os of our mouths singing. We titled it:  “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel.”

That was two years ago. We mailed it out in envelopes, signed, sealed and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and its analogues in distant lands. Good cheer and laughs in mailboxes all around! It’s been downhill ever since. By last year, we’d let our mailing list go to seed. We communicated with most of our friends online and no longer had street addresses for them. So on December 23rd or thereabouts, I sent out a paltry five or six store-bought cards with a photo tucked inside and called it a day.

Erik Freeland

The author’s holiday card from 2010. This year she will not be sending one.

(MORE: Working on Holidays: The New Class Divide?)

I didn’t know it then but my world, my social world, was changing. Today, my 1,500 Facebook friends — 1,300 of whom I have never actually met—have already seen the best of the year’s haul of pictures of my kids. They also know where I’ve gone on vacation and sometimes, what I cooked for dinner or what I thought of a movie on a Saturday night in May. There’s little point to writing a Christmas update now, with boasts about grades and athletic prowess, hospitalizations and holidays, and the dog’s mishaps, when we have already posted these events and so much more of our minutiae all year long. The urge to share has already been well sated.

Likewise, as recipients, we already have real-time windows into the lives of people thousands of miles away. We already know exactly how they’ve fared in the past year, much more than could possibly be conveyed by any single Christmas card. If a child or grandchild has been born to a former colleague or high school chum living across the continent, not only did I see it within hours on Shutterfly or Instagram or Facebook, I might have seen him or her take his or her first steps on YouTube. If a job was gotten or lost, a marriage made or ended, we have already witnessed the woe and joy of it on Facebook, email and Twitter.

Still, the demise of the Christmas photo card saddens me. It portends the end of the U.S. Postal Service. It signals the day is near when writing on paper is non-existent. Finally, it is part of a decline of a certain quality of communication, one that involved delay and anticipation, forethought and reflection. Opening these cards, the satisfaction wasn’t just in the Peace on Earth greeting, but in the recognition that a distant friend or relative you hadn’t heard from in a year was still thinking about you, and maybe sharing news about major events of the past 12 months.

(MORE: The Best Gift to Give a Kid for Christmas)

We know each other so well now, perhaps too well. And yet, all the time logged into our computers has also taken us away from our nearest and dearest. Who can say they spent as much time looking into the eyes of family, friends and neighbors as into the colorful phone or laptop screen last year? This season, in lieu of sending cards, my winter holiday greeting at the end of 2012 will be this: after posting the obligatory seasonal wishes online on Christmas Eve, I will be clicking off the electronic messaging services, and trying to connect in person with my friends, neighbors and family members for a change.

And wishing them each peace and joy in the year to come, of course.

MORE: Nativity-Scene Battles: Score One for the Atheists

10 comments
RidingtheFence
RidingtheFence

I send a different themed Christmas photo card each year. Pirate garb, Western garb, Flapper from the 20's garb etc. The people that receive them seem to love them. It could be fun and people would always look forward to getting them if you got really creative.

texafornian78
texafornian78

Is this about photo cards or all holiday cards? I am relatively young and still appreciate getting cards in the mail. The generic "Merry Christmas" updates people post on Facebook seem pointless and impersonal. Same goes for those annoying mass texts i get. Take the time to show people you care to put effort into sending them a card. Its not hard.

Whatyousay?
Whatyousay?

Goblue562 has obviously missed the whole point of social networking. I have hundreds of online friends that I've never actually met. So what? This is how we discover new friends, hear new points of view and learn about ourselves and the world around us. It's okay to 'friend' people you've never met. It's okay to smile at strangers too.

goblue562
goblue562

Believe me.. Your friends will be glad not to get stupid Christmas cards like your picture trashing their mail box.  If you can't take the time to send a heartfelt greeting in a paper card without making yourself look like a fool, then stick to your faceless anonymous friends on Facebook.  Still wondering why you'd 'friend' 1300 people that you don't know, anyway?

cm6096
cm6096

The photo christmas card is a gross expression of sociopathic behavior.  People very in love with themselves do it.  You're not sending them to say "merry xmas"... you're sending them to say "Look at ME!!!!".  Personally I don't send any christmas cards...  If I actually like you, and I probably don't, you'll hear from me either by phone or in person and I will personally wish you a Merry Christmas.

itsmrrod
itsmrrod

While I understand that the trend is moving away from mailing holiday cards, I believe people will regret ending the card tradition.   A Christmas card from a friend - with photos of their family and other images of importance to them - is something that can be saved and cherished.  How many people will lose their digital photos through hard drive crashes, stolen phones, etc.?   I don't feel a special connection when a friend posts a general holiday Facebook greeting for all of their friends to see, but I do feel grateful when I know they took the time to mail a card to me.  Facebook may truly turn out to be a fad, and can we really be assured that services like Facebook will be free or desirable, given privacy policies, advertising methods, and more?  Long live the annual photo card, whether it be for Christmas, the New Year or some other annual celebration of life.

adnan7631
adnan7631

@itsmrrod 

I agree. I don't remember who wishes me happy birthday on Facebook but I keep every single one of my birthday cards. 

MrsWineGarden
MrsWineGarden

I love getting Christmas cards so I can hang them in my house. Holiday decorations of the people I care about...what's better than that? With all the pictures online, no one sends actual pictures to put in your house, so this is the only time of year they do! I don't need 100 pictures of my husband and I doing things displayed, I see him everyday. :)

hikatie
hikatie like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think this is conflating Christmas cards with the Christmas letter.  My husband sends 100+ Christmas cards each year (after he's left Facebook and before, and before he was ever on there to begin with), and the issue isn't whether or not we know what our friends have been up to, or what their kids look like now - it's to wish them holiday greetings and to show that they're worth the time to sit down and send a real paper card with handwritten notes to.  They're worth our time and a little bit of money, as individuals - not just as a list of 1300 to broadcast pictures and status updates to.

DanielGreenberg
DanielGreenberg

I look forward to holiday card season because it's then that I realise how little I still know of the lives of people close to me. Despite being friends on Facebook with my cousins, the Facebook newsfeed is so full of news from your friends that the algorithm now limits what you actually see. I'm surprised every year when I get Christmas letters from my aunts and uncles that tell me my cousins have switched jobs, moved houses, or are dating someone really special to them. Facebook seems to give me a lot of minutiae, but very rarely any detailed views on friends' lives. No question a lot of people have stopped sending holiday cards, but the majority of the US still does - here are some industry facts that make the point pretty clearly https://www.conxt.com/general-release/should-you-send-holiday-cards-this-year-some-industry-facts-might-help/ While I definitely hear Nina's point that we've all seen enough children's pictures on Facebook now, I wonder if the more pressing point is what she said about her mailing list going to seed. With communication largely done by email, smartphones, and social media, no one keeps up with physical mailing addresses anymore. That's why my brother and I founded www.conxt.com, your free online address book. We want to take families' paper address books online so that updating mailing addresses becomes easy, and when it's time to send a holiday card or a catch-up letter, you already have the addresses to do so :)