Christmas Cards, A Vanishing Tradition

American card, circa 1940

American Christmas card, circa 1940 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I regret to report that 2013 will be remembered as the year the Christmas card tradition died.

Based on anecdotal evidence, 2013 is the end of an era. People I know report neither sending nor receiving more than a card or two this year. I wouldn’t mind being wrong about this, but . . .

Once upon a time, exchanging Christmas cards was all but mandatory. Companies published directories in late November listing every employee’s name and address. That practice continued through the 1960s and into the ’70s. These days, younger generations scarcely give a second thought about posting intimate photos online, yet publishing an employee address would be considered a criminal breach of privacy. How do social mores mutate like that in less than a lifetime?

Christmas postcard date unknown, circa 1900.

Christmas postcard, circa 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry, I digress. Not everyone was thrilled about Christmas cards. For many it was just one more chore. (You know, “chore” . . . like milking the cow or chopping wood?) It took a lot of time, not to mention effort and stamps. Stamps weren’t the main sticking point — when I was a child, you could send a Christmas card with a three-cent stamp.

War-related, circa 1943

War-related Christmas card, circa 1943 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, it was the burden of social responsibility. That and writer’s cramp. Failing to send a Christmas card to a friend, business associate, acquaintance or former classmate was a faux pas. It made no difference if you saw them every day, or not in 30 years. No difference if they lived across town or across the continent. People routinely received cards from folks they could hardly remember or identify. The only response was to copy the return address onto an envelope and send the stranger a card at once. By airmail, if necessary.

The world's first commercially produced Christ...

First commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writer’s cramp was a problem long before carpal tunnel syndrome. In many cases, a card was not enough. A handwritten personal note was required. Some families sent literally hundreds of Christmas cards. The task invariably fell to the wife.

Sometimes a family picture was enclosed. That was before the advent of form Christmas letters and copying machines. Who would send a mimeographed Christmas letter?

Rust Craft, circa 1950

Rust Craft, circa 1950 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The photocopied Christmas letter may have been the beginning of the end for Christmas cards. Who could keep up with the Joneses, and their extraordinary children? The Christmas card tradition has been in decline for years. Facebook and Twitter were the final straws. We’ll miss Christmas cards, someday.

A Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year.

— John Hayden

9 thoughts on “Christmas Cards, A Vanishing Tradition

  1. Hi John! My perspective is that there was too short a turn-around between Thanksgiving and Christmas for folks to get everything done, inc. mailing Christmas cards. FYI though, I did receive over 20 cards. Since I didn’t mail cards this year either, I messaged (FB) or called all my card friends. The calls were more appreciated than a card anyway, because we were able to catch up on news and share good wishes. Happy New Year to you …. miss ya! Judy


  2. I agree that cards in the mail are definitely on the way out, if they’re not already good as gone. But I do remember everything you remember, including the 3 cent stamp. (I should remember: I was the wife!) Somehow Jacquie Lawson e-cards — with their happy cartoon dog named Chumleigh bounding through the cartoon snow — just don’t cut it. The best that can be said is that they’re cheaper, and quicker. If you consider those two qualities advantages. I’m not so sure I do ….


  3. I am a Jacquie Lawson card sender myself. Cards were usually the one “chore” that didn’t get done, so sending JL cards are better than nothing.


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