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For years, doomsayers have predicted the irreversible decline of holiday cards based on the assumption that social media and email are making the annual greetings obsolete. But while sales are down considerably from the 2.9 billion holiday cards that were mailed in 2002, the number has been ticking upward in recent years. And thanks to COVID-19, 2020 may be the biggest year for seasonal greetings in more than a decade.
Sure, there are plenty of Scrooges who believe the cost and environmental impact of mailing paper cards in an era of 55-cent stamps is reason enough to consign them to the dustbin of history. Others believe there is no point in sending out holiday greetings—or the much-maligned annual letters that accompany them—when so many of us keep in constant touch via Facebook.
Even Hallmark Cards Inc., which pretty much invented the modern Christmas card, announced earlier this year that it was revamping its business in response to a 13% decline in the sale of paper greeting cards since 2015.
Yet, card-lovers can take heart. More than 3,000 U.S. companies produce greeting cards, American purchased 6.5 billion greeting cards last year (including 1.6 billion holiday cards) and the United State Postal Service reports that the volume of greeting cards it handles has increased each of the last four years.
Maybe old habits, especially ones that literally deliver holiday joy across the miles, are more resilient than we think. After all, the first printed Christmas greeting—a 5-1/8 by 3-1/4 inch piece of cardboard with a preprinted message—dates back to 1843. It was followed by the first U.S.-produced Christmas card in 1875. Hallmark established the format for folded cards delivered in envelopes soon after it was founded in 1915, and the USPS finally caught the Christmas spirit in 1962, when it issued its first holiday stamp.
Who is sending holiday cards? Not surprisingly, 73% of people aged 65 and older said they were likely to send out cards in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. But what is a surprise is the number of American Millennials who are following suit in recent years. They now spend more money on greeting cards each year than Baby Boomers. In fact, many believe the younger generation may actually save the industry—not only by buying cards, but also by starting companies that manufacture cutting-edge designs.
Refreshingly, many younger adults have discovered the limits of social media and find themselves gravitating toward less fleeting and more aesthetically pleasing methods of communication.
This preference is likely to get a big boost this year as Americans struggle with the isolation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, and seek an upbeat, heartfelt and safe way to connect with family and friends. A recent survey indicates that 60% of respondents plan on sending holiday cards this season compared with 38% who did so last year.
However, don’t be surprised if this year’s holiday cards deviate a bit from the tried and true. One card company, Millbrae, has gone with a quarantine theme for 40% of its new holiday cards. The messages of other pandemic-related seasonal cards include “Good Riddance 2020” to “Still Home for the Holidays.”
Or maybe this would be a good year to craft some homemade cards, given that many of us will have more time to ourselves than usual during the holiday season. This will provide the opportunity to not only choose a look and message that suits the occasion perfectly, but also to create a card that will raise the spirits of a friend or family member during this trying time. Several residents of GreenFields can looking forward to exchanging holiday greetings with pen pals they connected with last spring as COVID-19 restrictions were put into place. Nothing brightens a day like getting mail from a friend, and nothing brightens the holiday season like a card that can be displayed and enjoyed for weeks to come. Now is the time to start creating or addressing your holiday greetings. The earlier, the better!