Are Greeting Cards a Thing of the Past?

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Alden Jewell

This year, we emailed an electronic letter reporting on our family events and offering best wishes to all the friends and relations to whom in the past we had snail-mailed Jewish New Year greeting cards. We felt guilty about switching away from the time-intensive activity of buying, signing and addressing snail-mail cards, and worried that the email would signal others that we viewed our time as too valuable to spend on a card. We don’t.

We’ve noticed that we are receiving fewer snail-mail greeting cards, both now and at the Christmas/New Year season too, so our behavior is fairly typical. Is the social norm of sending greeting cards breaking down? Or is it just substitution toward the less time-intensive form of greeting? Since I don’t think we’re atypical, I have to ask: Why the trend?


why spend money on cards and postage when you can select a cool, often personalizable, animated card and send it over the internet with little to no expense and much less time?
I like snail mail but most christmas cards are obviously purchased and sent in bulk. They're not picked to be special to us and don't even have our name anywhere but the envelope, i'd just as soon have something i can watch online and let my kid watch and be entertained for a few minutes. But i'm young and think a facebooked thank-you note is perfectly acceptable too. I don't know what dear abby would say about the whole thing.

Greg Hart

We switched a couple of years ago, partly because we procrastinated and partly because we hated the work of paper cards which just got thrown away. Last year, we did an e-card with a video showing our year and emailed and posted on Facebook. One advantage I didn't think of was all of the comments that people would post on the video are now a permanent record for me (and not just thrown away). Someday I will like to look back on the card and comments. It is not only cheaper and easier, but more lasting. I will never send a real card again.

Stephen K

The demise of all forms of hand-written communication is a depressing trend.

I don't think an email can ever be a treasured possession in the same way a hand-written letter can,

Get writing people!

For greeting cards it can get different though since they're often impersonal and sent out of some weird sense of duty.

It's not really as big an issue. I guess it depends on who the recipient is and whether or not it's sent with genuine affection rather than a wish to 'keep up appearnances'.


How do you infer that your behavior is typical, just from the data on the number of cards you have received?

We have seen ours balloon in the last few years. Probably because we have school age children, and the number of relationships, even casual, that we have has gone up.

But, my data is anecdotal as well.

Personally, I think sending greeting cards is silly at this point, and don't get me started with the "here is a picture of our perfect family in the same white shirt and jeans at the beach with a 10 paragraph report on how awesome we are" cards I receive.


Personally, i think that the social norm of sending greeting cards is breaking down. I don't mean that people are just going to stop sending greetings cards. What I mean is that just like you, people are looking for other methods, and I completely agree. Sending greetings electronically, via email, or any other way through the computer is a lot more benefitial to you. Yes, it takes the "warmth" of the christamas greeting card were everyone signs it, but sending it via email has several benefits. Time is very valuable, and you spend less time sending an email that going out, shopping for cards, making everyone sign it, and shipping it off. You also say money, and it is way easier. These things are making many people leave behind the habit of making their greetings cards.

Robert Sandor

I suppose that I can only guess as a 23 year old.

(1) With the internet and constant communication and information sharing through Facebook, e-mail, and other social web-based content, there is no need for the annual update Christmas card describing what has happened, I have already seen what has happened on Facebook.

(2) I have never really used snail-mail for anything but bills (and I do those mostly on-line), so this seems... inefficient.

(3) I do not see snail mail as "better" in any way, only slower. I do not care if someone took the time to write out what they wanted to say. Plus, I can write back and forth on e-mail several times in the time that it would take me to get the snail mail in the first place.

Overall, I would say that an inefficient traditional methods tend to die off as people move towards efficiency, even at the expense of what the remember is socially considered special.



We have not seen a diminishment of snail-mail Christmas cards. We view the snail-mail cards not as a timesuck but another way to get into the Christmas spirit in many ways:

1) As senders, we've made the card signing and addressing a ritual that requires booze, cookies, and a fireplace.

2) As receivers, we display the cards prominently as part of holiday decor.

What we've found is that almost everyone in our immediate family have ritualized this in pretty much the same way. But, perhaps, my family is not typical. We may get better metrics on the e-mail phenomenon on how much snail-mail card volume is handled by the post office every year.


Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) have put many people in much more regular contact with old friends, schoolmates, and relatives scattered all over the globe.

Rather than feeling the need to greet and update these acquaintances in a single annual mass-mailing, we check in with one another far more frequently online--whether we write a quick note to offer words of encouragement of affection, or browse the photos they post of their kids or their most recent vacation.

So now, greeting cards feel not so much like a waste of time and effort, but redundant.


I would like to think it has to do with society moving beyond appearances to the point of the exercise. The purpose of personal messages should be to communicate caring and a desire to remain in touch with the recipient. Too often, the holiday cards I receive via snail mail appear to be more about the cost of the card and how much time was spent in putting it together. Though any mailing is appreciated, I prefer an email with non-posed photos and real information about the happenings in friends' lives over staged, glitzy productions.


It's not just the time, effort and inconvenience involved in sending cards (although those are all good reasons to abandon them). There's also an environmental impact, from the destruction of trees to create the cards to the printing and delivery processes that get them into the consumer's hands, and right on down to the delivery to the recipients' homes. All of that adds up--and the end result isn't even necessarily a timely greeting. (How often do birthday cards sent via snail mail actually arrive on someone's birthday?) I stopped sending greeting cards several years ago, and I don't regret it or feel guilty. On the contrary, I feel I'm doing my small part for the environment while making things easier on myself. A true win-win!

Middle American

The fact that an economist has to ask whether or not to send an actual card at the expense of a few moments, some saliva, and a stamp under 4 bits explains the Great Recession.

Yes, it reeks El Cheapo.

Next, we can address sending your wife flowers on Valentine's Day and buying lemonade from the neighbor's kid.

As Nike said, Just Do It.

Or, don't.

And sleep outside for awhile.

Do you need an answer on whether to pay 27 year old traders a million dollar bonus or to raise taxes on the top 1% to Reagan levels?

If you do, you're either in Washington, New York, or an academic ivory tower.

Save El Cheapo emails for NON occasions, and you're much more likely to get them back, as well as actual responses, cards, and, yes, even gifts, on the important occasions.

And think of all the money you'll save not having to hire pallbearers.


Does anyone still use regular mail for anything? I bought a book of stamps a few years ago(can't even remember why), and 99% of them are still sitting in my desk drawer. They've probably raised the rates since then anyway.

I know the only mail i get is junk - even my bills are via email now. I may as well just take the bottom off my mailbox & deposit a recycling receptacle under it.

Generally holiday greetings are disseminted via email & text message. Sending people greetings printed on & encased in deceased trees just seems wasteful.


I think that the convenience of the internet has and is slowly phasing out the need for anything relating to snail mail. I, on the other hand, prefer snal mail items when it comes to friends or family. I believe it is more personal and requires more effort (for me at least) than just typing away at the computer. For occasions like birthdays or holidays, I prefer to write out the card and write out an individualised message-not a generic message. In the end, for me, writing out a card takes longer than me just typing away an email or e-card. And I believe the people I send it to appreciate the effort. I know that between my father and myself, we would just send cards to each other as a secondary form of communication after the telephone. We'd send each other Halloween cards, Easter cards, etc., just for kicks but I have kept every single one.

Ian Kemmish

Buying and signing a card isn't time intensive. Making your own card and adding some nice calligraphy is time intensive.

I'll wager that the number of hand-made cards being sent isn't declining.


If you don't view your time as too valuable to use on a card, why didn't you continue sending cards? Either the social norm is breaking down and you've caved to its convention, or you actually do view your time as too valuable to use on sending cards.

Eileen M. Wyatt

If one has a large number of online friends spread across the globe, one positively has some form of electronic contact info but doesn't necessarily have a street address.

364 days of the year, one doesn't *need* a street address for these people. Compiling and maintaining street addresses is labor-intensive and ordinarily has no value to the relationship, which bops along happily in purely online form.

E-cards make more sense.


I've watched with sadness as the number of Christmas cards I receive goes down every year. (I'm in my late 30s.) The obvious reason is that most people feel they are too busy to send cards -- but I stress the word "feel," because busy people who appreciate handwritten notes still find time to send them. I love beautiful cards and enjoy the ritual of writing them, but my own pleasure has been diminished by the paltry response in recent years, even from friends with whom I still communicate happily in other ways.

A permanent shift in attitudes is revealed in some of the comments above: greeting cards are "inefficient" compared to e-mail and Facebook. But cards were never meant to be efficient. They were meant as little works of art, designed to express the taste of the sender and brighten the day of the receiver. It's not efficient to decorate our homes, either -- much easier to leave all the walls white -- but you can't enjoy life by reducing it to a series of efficiencies.

Those who do send cards often send those horrible photo strips with their names pre-printed on them, so they don't even have to pick up a pen to sign the thing. This is yet another misunderstanding of the holiday card as a self-centered news update rather than an other-centered packet of warm thoughts.



As long as I'm alive there will be one customer left for good old fashioned Christmas cards.


Wow, what a bunch of super serious overthinkers we have here!
Greeting cards - via "snail mail" - are lovely to send and lovely to receive. Who doesn't like coming home to mail that isn't advertising, bills or catalogues? A greeting card - for any occasion or none at all - simply says "I thought of you" and takes what, a moment's effort and a stamp?
It's also something tangible to hold and return to...who hasn't kept a dear grandmother's Birthday card for years on end, or a lover's Valentine?
Internet email cards are just another impersonal step away from "the classics." So sad.


I, too, have noticed a decline in the number of snail-mail cards received, but I, for one, will persist in sending them out each holiday.

If the point is to spread 'efficient' holiday messages, then an emailed message is fine, but if the point is to send a personal, heart-felt greeting to loved ones, email cannot hold a candle to a snail-mail card. Hand-made cards painstakingly drawn by children to their aunts, uncles, and cousins will never be outranked by an electronic "Happy Birthday, Dude" squealed from computer speakers.

For me, the whole experience of sending snail-mail cards-- the inefficiency of the whole process--is part and parcel of the 'why' of doing it in the first place. The time you take to either make, or select a card, add a message, address the envelope, and finally, send it off in the mail is part of the love you put into the message.

No matter how busy the season, or how crammed the schedule, the person who sent you that snail mail card took the time to think of you. And that's the real gift.