Etiquette Questions, Answered: Holidays and Gifts
Q: In a world with constant Facebook updates, isn’t the ritual of sending holiday cards obsolete?
A: Not to sound Scroogey, but let’s be objective about the situation. Once you buy cards, sign them, address the envelopes, affix 44-cent stamps, and trudge to the post office with your stack, you will have spent $100 or more to mail the same photo of your children and dog that everyone saw months ago when you uploaded it to an online album called “Summer Vacation 2010.” Given the bad economy, this money might be better spent on presents, helping you stay within your gift-buying budget (imagine that). Or you could donate the sum to charity. Or you could go crazy and treat yourself to, say, a new pair of boots. (I just saw some tall ones with low heels that would work with dresses and pants.)
“I wish there were some way I could get people not to send me holiday cards,” I recently said to my husband. “They’re such a waste.”
“A waste of what?” he asked.
“Time. Money. Paper. Et cetera.”
Here we are, a nation of people throwing out our old fax machines and canceling landline phones. And yet we cling to the anachronistic tradition of sending holiday cards.
“What time-honored ritual are you coming out against next?” my husband asked. “Trick-or-treating?”
Certainly not. While Halloween annoys me because my dogs bark whenever the doorbell rings, I do like seeing kids in costume, especially the pirates and Cinderellas. Plus, there are the leftover miniature Krackel bars.
But he made me wonder: Am I too negative about holiday cards? I admit to a little defensiveness about my own inadequacies in this area. The last year I mailed cards—2005—they didn’t actually go out until 2006, necessitating this salutation: “Let us be the last to wish you a Happy New Year.”
Maybe that memory was clouding my judgment. After all, there’s nothing I look forward to more each year than the old-fashioned holiday letter written by one of my most future-loving friends, Kevin Kelly. As a founding editor of Wired, a technology magazine, Kevin is constantly predicting the death of books, the demise of paper, and the end of reading, for goodness’ sake.
And yet…every December, he mails a letter. It’s not one of those dutiful end-of-the-year summaries that illuminate little about the person who sent it. It’s a thoughtful, charming message full of wisdom; he’ll recount his travels with his children, relay a thought-provoking question, or expound upon a theory about why most people are kindhearted if you give them a chance.
Why does he go to the bother of doing this every year? I phoned him to find out.
“Taking a step back and marking the passage of time is an even more valuable exercise these days, when we’re all so perpetually busy,” he said. Besides, he added, paper is the only form of communication that is accessible to everyone on your list, old and young, plugged-in and not.
Sending a content-free card may not be worthwhile, in my opinion. Writing a meaningful card, however, is time and effort well spent. When you do it, people feel genuinely connected to you—far more so than they would by reading your Facebook update or having a quick catch-up chat on the street.
“Maybe I should do it,” I said, and as I said it, I realized: I. Really. Should.