Millennials are killing the Christmas card — and that's not a bad thing

Millennials have been lambasted across the board for various atrocities — and now, you can add to the list the accusation that they're killing the Christmas card. But that's paving the way for new digital greeting traditions, says Katy MacKinnon.

The rise of social media is creating new holiday greeting traditions, says Katy MacKinnon

A holiday-themed photograph on Instagram or a Facebook post is replacing the Christmas card as the go-to way for millennials to share holiday greetings, says Katy MacKinnon. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

For every baby boomer frantically dashing about town picking up Christmas gifts and holiday-themed greeting cards right now, there is a millennial who probably did all their holiday shopping online.

After all, perhaps one of the key defining characteristics of a generation is its staunch desire to do things differently than the generation that came before.

Millennials, in particular, have been lambasted across the board for various atrocities — we're the sheltered generation, the special snowflakes, the narcissists who can't wait for the next social media platform to drop so that we can share another selfie.

And now, you can add to the list the accusation that we're killing the Christmas card.

But why should that be a bad thing?

Discarding old traditions

Chances are, if you took a completely unscientific survey of the millennials in your life — or checked your mailbox, for that matter — you would discover that most of us do not have plans to send out the annual Christmas card, enveloped with a sentimental letter detailing the accomplishments and woes of the year and a printed, fridge-ready photograph.

Baby boomers, in turn, may also be unlikely to partake in the mass snail-mail holiday card spree, adopting the digital ways of their millennial children after too many frustrating holidays spent waiting in lines at the post office for a special holiday stamp collection, updating "sent/received" lists, and nursing sore hands after addressing a stack of envelopes.

The change in this time-honoured tradition is relatively recent. Annual Christmas cards have a long tradition, beginning in Britain in 1843 with what was believed to be the first Christmas card. The popularity of the tradition grew with new developments in printing, making its way to the United States by the late 19th century.

This nearly century-old Christmas card was found during demolition work on a Victorian house owned by Halifax Hospice in Nova Scotia. Although Christmas cards have a long history, millennials are abandoning them in favour of greetings via social media for good reasons, says Katy MacKinnon. (Kyla Friel/Halifax Hospice)

The rise of modern capitalism allowed for the establishment of Hallmark Cards in 1910, cementing this holiday tradition with the mass production of greeting cards.

In modern Canada, however, lettermail is on the decline. Canada Post's 2016 annual report indicates a 7.8 per cent drop in lettermail for the year. While the report doesn't track holiday greeting cards specifically, it suggests an overall shift in the way we communicate with others.

New digital holiday traditions

As cellphones became commonplace in the first decade of the 21st century, unlimited texting plans became a necessary purchase. With that, millennials adopted holiday traditions of their own.

Enter the mass text. Usually a sentence or two, this text would be sent to everyone on one's contact list, peppered with an emoticon, a punctuation-based precursor to today's pictograph emoji.

But as social networking grew after the launch of Facebook in 2004 — a platform directly aimed at the millennial generation from its start — millennials created a different tradition: the holiday social media post.

Social networking allows people to share both important life updates and mundane details with friends and family, making the traditional Christmas letter unnecessary, says MacKinnon. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

We are, after all, the generation leading the way in technological reform. We're introducing new technology into workplaces stuck in the paper generation. We're streamlining tasks with tech. We're developing new ways to track exercise, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, have restaurant meals delivered directly to our door.

And now, we're upgrading a tired Christmas tradition and making it millennial.

A holiday-themed photograph on Instagram or a Facebook post with a cutesy message is now the go-to way for millennials to share their holiday greetings with friends and family. Unlike the newsy letters of our parents' generation, these posts are usually short and sweet, indicating what we're doing right in that moment, rather than itemizing our life moments over the past year.

Millennials' lack of sharing a year-long life update is not because we can't be bothered to. We simply don't have the need to. Social networking allows us to share important life updates and mundane details of our life with hundreds of friends, family, and acquaintances at a time. By the time the winter holidays arrive, our past year's life updates are old news.

Thus, the snail-mail Christmas card is quickly becoming a thing of the past. And as much as this millennial likes the surprise of receiving a card in the mail, keeping in touch with loved ones year-round with the ease of technology is something that I, like most millennials, am not willing to give up.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Katy MacKinnon is a queer, non-binary freelance writer in Winnipeg. Their work has appeared in CBC Manitoba, Maclean's, Daily Xtra and, before its closure, Outwords magazine.