The slow death of Christmas cards?

One of the traditional objects of the Christmas season, the Christmas card, is on the decline:

After experiencing slowing growth since 2005, Christmas card sales declined in 2009. While the drop was slight, 0.4 percent, according to research firm Mintel International Group, evidence is building that the next generation of correspondents is unlikely to carry on the tradition with the same devotion as their parents.

The rise of social networking, smart phones and Apple iPads is changing the way friends and family stay in touch, diminishing the Christmas card’s long-standing role as the annual social bulletin…

Americans sent more than 1.8 billion Christmas cards through the mail last year, according to greeting card industry statistics. That figure is expected to drop to 1.5 billion this holiday season.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. Compared to other forms of communication, the Christmas card takes time and money. Interestingly, the same story says the Christmas card was born out of an interest in saving time:

A British businessman is credited with creating the Christmas card in 1843 — as a way to save time. Too busy to write a personal holiday greeting, Henry Cole hired a well-known London artist to design a card he could send to all his acquaintances, according to a version of the story recounted by greeting card maker Hallmark Cards Inc. Louis Prang, a German immigrant, is said to have brought the Christmas card tradition to America in 1875, printing a card depicting Killarney roses and the words Merry Christmas.

Some of my thoughts about this tradition that may die a slow death:

1. I’ve always enjoyed getting and reading Christmas cards (and the letters within). It is the one time a year you can count on getting mail and updates about people’s lives.

2. Many of the letters that are included in the cards are just fascinating. The typical one reads something like this: “We all had a great year, Son #1 did amazing things, Son #2 was comparable, and Daughter #1 is only 7 years old but is setting the world on fire!” On the whole, the letters are upbeat and tend to produce the image of “the perfect family.” And if they are Christians, there might be a paragraph or two at the end (or perhaps a verse printed in the card or at the top or bottom of the letter) about bringing the focus back around from their wonderful family to “the real reason for the season.”

2a. Perhaps I am too cynical about these cards. But on the whole, it seems like an exercise in taking a few moments to paint a particular image of one’s family.

2b. Perhaps this is exemplified best by the picture card, the one that puts the family in some sort of Christmas pose.

3. Even with the general tone of such letters, it does suggest someone has put some time into it. The idea that a card or letter (even though most of these letters are typed) is more meaningful than a Facebook post makes sense to me. But maybe this is just nostalgia talking and if the original cards were just a quest for efficiency, perhaps Christmas cards are just another symbol of the efficient modern culture.

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