When I was growing up, my mother received dozens of Christmas cards. She’d incorporate them into the holiday decor by hanging them on a wall in our family room. I remember being eager to see what “real” letters were buried in the stacks of generic catalogs and holiday sale flyers that arrived with each new mail delivery.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’d come home from school to find new cards of various shapes, sizes, and degrees of simplicity and extravagance added to the card wall. I took great delight in choosing my favorites and re-admiring them — even helping my mother arrange them so the “best” ones (typically those festooned with glitter) were at my eye level (this was before I fully grasped the selfless spirit of the season).
These days, my mother is lucky to get a handful of snail-mail Christmas cards. USA Today reported in 2019 that “major retailers, including CVS and Walmart, [were] poised to cut back on cards, and greeting card companies have closed hundreds of standalone locations” because “more and more people are using text and email and e-cards, and fewer people are buying cards.”
Let us not let sit idly by on our screens and let such a beautiful tradition die. Exchanging Christmas cards offers many benefits — not just to the receiver, but to the soul of the sender as well. Here are five reasons you should send Christmas cards this year.
1. Handwritten Cards Are More Creative and Memorable
Most modern people are adept at firing off a text or email in a dash without much thought. But if you’ve taken the time recently to sit down and compose something by hand, you’ve likely noticed that it feels different. Your words are more deliberate, perhaps, and your expressions more calculated — eloquent, even — as you let them develop in time for your out-of-shape writing hand to keep up.
The Wall Street Journal reported on several studies showing that “something about writing things down excites the brain.” Psychology Today noted that the practice increases creativity and “engages your motor skills, memory, and more.”
If months or years have passed since you last communicated with your Christmas card recipient, an activated memory should surely come in handy. I find when I write letters by hand, I pause often to decide on the perfect phrasing. I also think more about the person I’m writing to — what we have in common, what I love about the person, what makes him or her special, etc. — than I do when I’m simply typing up something quickly.
It’s a cathartic feeling to reflect on the beautiful souls God has put in your life, to check in on them, and to express gratitude to them for their goodness. Writing by hand also evokes the elusive “mindfulness” we are always being encouraged to seek, and being mindful of others is what Christmastime is, or should be, all about.
Writing out cards doesn’t just activate the brain of the person writing it. Researchers have found that reading something on paper, as opposed to on a screen, causes people to remember it better. BigThink.com tells us reading on paper is “better for concentration, learning and remembering than reading digitally.” One theory holds that “People approach digital texts with a mindset suited to casual social media, and devote less mental effort than when they are reading print.”
In other words, your sentiments go farther and stick better in a handwritten note than in a quick e-message.
2. A Card Is a Non-Awkward, Affordable Gift that Suits Everybody
When it comes to gifts, they say “it’s the thought that counts.” And done right, cards are, in essence, an artistically presented bundle of loving thoughts. They take time and effort and are the universally perfect gift, infusing a meaningful, personal touch into something affordable and highly customizable.
When I’m doing my Christmas cards, in addition to my immediate family and closest friends, I try to include people I appreciate and admire but whom I may not see or speak to regularly. “Let no good deed go unnoticed” is a helpful mindset. In considering my Christmas card list, I delve into the past year, considering my regular habits, the year’s highlights, and who has been a part of them.
This year, for instance, I’ll send a card to Judy, the older lady who mans the front desk of the YMCA and types in my name every time I forget my gym fob (which is 99 percent of the time). I’ll also write to Billy from the local sportsman’s club, who went out of his way to help me feel at ease as a newcomer to the Tuesday night trapshooting league. And I’ll send a card to the parish priest, who is new and works tirelessly to be everywhere and do everything and is inspiring all of us parishioners with his contagious energy.
A phone call with some of these acquaintances could be awkward, but a handwritten note takes the pressure off of both people! (Now I know why public officials are so fond of reading “prepared statements.”) What’s more, it can be fun to tailor your card selection specifically to the person. Despite a recent decline in greeting card offerings, there is still a huge variety available in all price ranges, from the decadent, gilded Papyrus cards that’ll cost you extra in postage, to the cute, economical bundles available at the Dollar Store. Handmaking your own is even more heartfelt. Which brings us to…
3. Crafting Cards Is the Perfect Family Activity
I felt that I got to know my mother’s friends and our distant relatives through the Christmas cards they sent. There were the ornate, Medieval-esque works of art sent by a lovingly eccentric childhood friend, the charming Currier and Ives-style prints from a cozy relative in New England, the majestic photographs made into cards from a California cousin. I came to know these people, in a way, by their penmanship, too — some with recognizable showy cursive, others who printed firmly with zero flourish and gave me the sense they were no-nonsense types.
When it came time to craft cards, my mother would pull out a metal tub full of crayons, stickers, glitter glue, colored pencils, and construction paper. We kids would get to work cutting and pasting, drawing, and writing. It’s a fond memory I cherish and is a tradition that helps families bond over an activity that teaches young ones the importance of communicating love for others and not to forget to share our cheer with the overlooked who are in special need of our charity.
4. Cards Are an Easy Way to Tell Corporations to Keep Christ in Christmas
If you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to make your own cards, of course you can buy them. Doing so offers the opportunity to tell corporations to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Buy the traditional cards depicting beautiful manger scenes. Send the message to the U.S. Post Office (someone has to keep them in business, right?) that Judeo-Christian values aren’t going anywhere by purchasing the Florentine Madonna and Child stamps and notecards.
5. Cards Leave a Legacy of Love
One reason, apparently, some people have stopped sending cards is because they’re “wasteful.” The glitter, ribbons, foil — essentially all the razzle-dazzle that makes cards great — is not (sigh) “sustainable.”
The joke, however, is on the Grinches mongering this fear who assume I actually throw my Christmas cards away. Ha! I am a notorious sentimentalist, but I can excuse my holiday hoarding in two ways. For one thing, as Eric Hanson notes, “We are failing to curate the present.” With everything being digital, non-tangible, and fleeting, what will our current generation leave behind for future generations to learn from? Imagine what a legacy we would have if the only physical artifacts future archaeologists discover from our time are beautiful, handwritten Christmas cards full of messages of peace, hope, love, and Christ!
And second, for the record, Christmas cards are highly recyclable. You can easily cut a card in half, saving the personalized message, and paste it to a new cardboard backing and share it again with a new note inside. It can also be fun to browse antique stores and do the same thing with really old cards. So there!
Tips for Writing Christmas Cards
When it comes time to write Christmas cards, I find it’s best to set aside a nice chunk of free time, organize yourself, and get in the proper mood. To do this, gather all your crafts, ready-made cards, pens, stamps, etc., and a list of card recipients, and place them on an uncluttered workspace. Turn on some seasonal music, light a fire in the fireplace if you have one (or a candle, at least), and prepare a warm, seasonal beverage to have at hand to reinvigorate the mind and spirit. Leave your phone out of it. Open your hand and heart and write away!
Don’t be one of those people who just scribble their names. The recipe for a good Christmas card includes at least a bit of news, a personal sentiment, some humor if you can manage it, and plenty of warmth and cheer.
(Oh, and don’t forget to send me one!)