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The Christmas card conundrum: Tips for giving, receiving and abandoning the tradition

For some holiday-minded people, taking the time for handwritten Christmas cards can be a joyous thing — but for others, giving, receiving or even abandoning the tradition can be fraught with uncertainty.

E-cards OK with a personal note but handwriten cards still the best, says etiquette expert

Etiquette expert Konrad Philip says elderly people who aren’t on social media especially appreciate handwritten cards. (Neil Hyde photo)

For some holiday-minded people, taking the time for handwritten Christmas cards can be a joyous thing — but for others, giving, receiving or even abandoning the tradition can be fraught with uncertainty.

To be sure, there's nothing more delightful than peeking into your mailbox and seeing a festive card with your name on it — until the delight turns to guilt and dread because you haven't reciprocated.

Etiquette expert Konrad Philip says there's no need to feel guilty and has some useful and surprising tips and tricks that will help you steer through the rest of the holiday season unscathed.

Firstly, friends and family you connect with on a regular basis don't necessarily have to be on your list unless you want them to be.

"The point of the card is to send your best wishes to someone whom you won't see around the holidays," said Philip.

Wait. What?

And, surprisingly, this includes your co-workers. Philip says giving Christmas cards to colleagues isn't necessary because you see them day to day.

E-cards an e-waste of time

For a time, nothing said Merry Christmas like an e-card. They were cool and novel and it seemed that the quaint notion of handwritten cards had become obsolete.

Philip says sending an e-card blast to your friends and family this season is a no-no, because they are just too impersonal  — and probably a waste of time because no one is likely to open them.

"If you are going to send something online, at least make it personal," said Philip. "Send a little greeting of some kind to each person."

Elderly people who aren't on social media especially appreciate handwritten cards, because it lets them know you appreciate and are thinking of them, Philip says.

Your card should include a short note telling them what you have been up to this year and good wishes for the year ahead.

2-year rule

Sending cards to people who haven't reciprocated? Philip says if you haven't received a card two years in a row, and the person hasn't shown appreciation in any way, you can remove them from your list — guilt free. 

There are a few rules of thumb to consider when writing Christmas cards, according to Philip.

  • You can use pre-printed labels for your name and return address, but the person's name and address should be handwritten on the envelope.
  • Your greeting doesn't have to be more than two or three sentences.
  • Include the names of people in the household you are sending the card to.
  • Long, detailed letters chronicling the great year that was are usually not welcome.

If you are still feeling guilty about not sending cards this holiday season you can still seize the opportunity to extend warm wishes — and give and receive a little Christmas joy too — by simply picking up the phone.

"It's the spirit of the season," said Philip.

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